Avi and the Silver Screen

Thursday night was pretty special.

“Cash Mob For Avi” had its theatrical premiere as part of the Big Apple Film Festival. Avi, Bharati, and Jwala joined us to see the film on the big screen at the world famous Tribeca Cinemas.

It was an honor to have the theatrical premiere of "Cash Mob For Avi" at the Tribeca Cinemas!

It was an honor to have the theatrical premiere of “Cash Mob For Avi” at the Tribeca Cinemas!

As the film began, I grabbed Avi’s hand sitting next to me. Over the next ten minutes, Avi and I got to watch about 130 experience the cash mob journey for the first time. And their reaction was palpable – you could feel a buzz of emotion in the room. As the end credits rolled we got a huge applause, and Avi exclaimed, “You did it!”

After the screening, I was called up to answer some questions about the film. Before I began my answers, I introduced Avi to the room. The crowd gave Avi a warm welcome. The love continued when many people approached Avi to offer good luck or just give him a hug. He was pretty much the biggest celebrity in the theater that night.

Liz does a Q&A after the screening

Liz does a Q&A after the screening

I asked Avi what he thought about the screening. In typical Avi fashion, he started with a humorous answer. Avi joked, “Oh my god! Avi Gandhi looked so gorgeous – I cannot believe it!”

But then he got serious. “I give the credit to you guys. These girls took my story and created a heartwarming story. Whatever it was that I was doing, I’m doing that every day. But you girls came and turned it into a very touching human story – which touches everybody and anybody’s heart.”

Sharing this night with the Gandhi family was truly very special. I think seeing the documentary on the big screen with a big audience made this whole experience a little more real for Avi.

The Gandhi family and Liz.

The Gandhi family and Liz.

 

Here are some more photos from this amazing night: 

 

 

 

Advertisements

We’ve Raised Over $16,000 on Fundly for Avi So Far!

I have a confession to make. When Liz suggested that we create a Fundly page with an initial goal of $5,000 to help support Center Lane Stationery, I thought she was crazy.

Her idea was this: use the film to inspire donations to help Avi restock inventory, hire someone a couple days a week to give Avi a break, or if he was forced to close, start a mini-retirement fund.

I mean, I knew Avi was special in so many ways but would people really want to reach into their pockets and donate money to someone they didn’t know? I was skeptical.

But she encouraged me to dream big, and four months after I created the campaign, I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong. As of today, we’ve raised over $16,000 for Avi. That’s more than I ever thought possible.

Fundlyblog

More than that, it’s been heartwarming to see how Avi’s story has resonated with so many people. They get him. They perceive his kindness, his sincere appreciation of the people he serves, and how tirelessly he works.

From India to Indianapolis, people have been showing their support from around the world. Here are some of my favorite donor comments:

people like this pull the earth along with them. – Isarapu Naveen

Thank you for sharing your story. My dad actually was taken away from us running his shop – this is for him. – Mamta CHhabra

I too own a small business and it is hard work! My customers mean to the world to me as well and I’m so glad yours are recognizing you! – Mike Goodridge

God Bless you Avi – You are what makes a town HOME !!! – Matthew Cameron

Avi, you are the very fabric that makes America a great place. Best wishes buddy – Anonymous

This has restored my faith in humanity. I can only hope to know love like this someday! Showing you all love from Houston, TX! – Rickey Williams

Saw the video and wanted to show my support. I believe that if you do good, good things happen to you. You touched my heart. – Marcelo Gittermann

I used to live in Levittown and have visited this store. It makes me happy to see that there are still good people .Levittown u rock. – Lynn Saives

I do not think that I have ever seen a more deserving man. All the best to you and your wife. – AJ Fundly

People like Avi are my heros, my inspiration. Working hard everyday and bringing light into others lives. Rock on Avi!! – Thor Hanks

Loved your story, Avi! Hope your wife continues to remain well. I’m a cancer survivor, too! – Diane Tavegia

The world needs more Avis. – Ryan And Anna Candelaria

I’ve been showing this to my mom, and it’s been blowing her mind that strangers are coming together to financially give a boost to another stranger. Over the Internet.

Fundly has proven to be a perfect platform for us. Aside from just an awesome user experience, what I love most is the flexibility, as it’s allowed us to continually dream bigger and raise our goal from $5,000 to $20,000.

Their team has been super supportive as well (thanks, Krystal Gandola!) and has pitched this story on our behalf to media outlets and promoted us on their own blog to help raise as much as we can for Avi.

I don’t know what the final total will be or how Avi plans on using the money (more to come from Avi himself!), but I continue to be amazed, humbled, and above all, grateful.

Spreading the Small Business Love

TT copy

Think of all the local merchandise you could be buying! (Photo credit: Zack DeLaune.)

Our not-so-secret goal of organizing the cash mob was that it would inspire others to do the same for a beloved store owner they knew. Because we all have an Avi in our lives, whether it’s the guy who knows your coffee order the second you walk in the door, or the saleswoman who always gives you an extra big smile when you’re checking out.

So we’re happy to see this idea taking shape in people’s minds. Sally Hanseth from Santa Barbara, California recently donated to our Fundly campaign and sent me a follow-up email. In it she writes:

We have a little shop in our neighborhood with a crotchety old Australian man who owns and runs it. It’s where everyone here goes for sandwiches. The way he loves all the kids (knows all their names) and locals runs deep, and although I’ve baked him appreciation brownies for the last 10 years, your cash mob is getting me thinking!

I love this! It got me thinking of all the small businesses around the world that are suffering, and the loyal customers who would  love nothing more than to help them out.

Would you host a cash mob? If so, how can we help?

Thanks from Avi’s Daughter, Jwala

Here’s a little something Jwala posted on Reddit recently in response to the overwhelming support from the Reddit community. We wanted to share it with you all to show you how much of an impact your views and generous Fundly donations will have:

“Avi is my dad – and he really is one of the best, most genuine people I know. He doesn’t use the Internet (really, he doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer), but if he knew about this thread, I know that he would be so moved – both by your kind words, and the outpouring of generosity everyone here has shown. I can’t believe that, in two days of being published to Reddit, the Fundly has already far surpassed its goal.

My dad has an endless amount of love to share with the world, but the idea of people returning that love, on such a grand, tangible scale, would be unfathomable to him. And how could it not be? This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

My father works seven days a week from 7AM to 7PM. He’s nearly 65, but his determination to get through these hard times, and his love for the customers he serves, is what gets him through every day. It’s hard on all of us – I miss having breakfast with my father, waking up to see him on Christmas morning, even sitting and having a beer on a Saturday afternoon. It’s these little things that add up, and after ten years, they’re not so little anymore.

More than anything else, my father deserves to rest, to be given the opportunity to relax, to go a week without worrying about finances or how the next bill is going to be paid. He deserves to be able to spend his senior years stress-free, and the love you’ve all shown is going a long way in helping him achieve that goal.

My father isn’t alone in his plight, though – this is a situation happening all over the country, in every suburb and city, in the bodega down your street corner. Small businesses don’t thrive in a struggling economy, and though it may be easy or convenient to go to the CVS or Walgreens down the street, it’s far more meaningful and appreciated to frequent that mom-and-pop shop you pass by on your way to work.

If nothing else, support small businesses, because they deserve our love.”

– Jwala

Get Tickets for the Big Apple Film Festival!

The next exciting step for the film is bringing it to the big screen! We got accepted into the Big Apple Film Festival, so we are prepping for our theatrical premiere!
If you are in the New York area, we would love to invite you to come out for the screening. We will find a bar in the area after the screening for some celebratory drinks. And – if you need more incentive – Avi and Bhararti will be at the screening, so you can meet them for yourself.
Official Selection at the 2014 BAFF
Here are the deets:
When: Thursday November 6th
Time: 6PM screening
Where: Tribeca Cinemas – 54 Varick St at Canal St, New York, NY 10013 (Subways 1 at Canal, ACE at Canal)
Tickets: $20
Please RSVP on Facebook so we can get a count for the bar after.

 

Crying. Still Crying. Thanks for the Tears.

What an emotional past couple of weeks this has been! On October 9 Celeste and I brought our second beautiful baby girl, Marvi, into this world. The day after she was born was our four year wedding anniversary. During our anniversary, while snuggling our newest little cuddlebot in the hospital, an amazing thing started happening: Avi’s video got picked up by the Reddit community and it started going viral.

MarviT!

Not only were the views and the Fundly donations skyrocketing, but people were deeply moved by Avi as a person. Comment after comment kept pouring in about how we needed more folks like Avi in the world. It was a bizarrely meta thing to celebrate the life Celeste and I were creating together, while holding a life we just created, and watching a dream we created come to be known by the world. I don’t think I have ever cried in so many directions at once.

Even now, I *still* cry every time I watch the video. When I first pitched the idea of filming the cash mob to Liz, I told her she just needed to meet this Avi guy in order to understand why we would be doing such a thing. She obviously figured it out, and her and Kat so perfectly captured his presence as if they’d known him for years. And I’m not the only one who thinks they did an amazing job – the comments speak for themselves.

AviCraig copy

The cash mob and the resulting reaction is more than I ever dreamed possible, and it is all due to the amazingly talented people on this project, especially Liz, Kat, Mike, and Celeste. Sure, I had the cash mob idea, but it was really Celeste who did all the organizing, planning, and motivating that made it a success.

A big thank you also to everyone who has shared and continues to spread the love for Avi around the world. Y’all gonna make me cry, over and over. Avi is so humbled, and doesn’t really know what to do with himself. He feels very alive and thanks all of you for the support. Expect to hear more from him very soon.

– Craig

Avi Around the World

Tonight we had the huge honor of being featured on ABC World News Tonight with David Muir. They really captured the community feel of Levittown, and how the town came together to celebrate Avi.

It seems fitting that ABC World News wanted to do this story, because this film has really gone worldwide. After less than week, more than 363,000 people have watched “Cash Mob For Avi.” People from Germany, Japan, and India have left messages wishing Avi well.

YouTube has some cool features to see data on who is watching your videos. People from all over the globe hit play. Right now, we have views logged from 160 countries.

20131014_Overview-Map

Overview by country as of 10/15/2014

We have the most views from the following countries:

Number of Views:

20141015_Top-views-by-country

Top views by country as of 10/15/2014

Not everyone watches the entire 10:00 minutes. These countries had that highest audience retention rate, meaning they watched most of the film.

Top Audience Retention Rate:

20141015_Total-Audience-retention

Top Audience Retention Rate as of 10/15/14

I love thinking about the man in South Sudan, or the woman in Kyrgyzstan watching this film. What do they think of Avi? Do they know other “candymen” who work long days but take so much pride in their work? Will they celebrate that person in some way?

When we decided to make this film, we hoped that it would inspire more people to do random acts of kindness for small businesses in their community. Knowing that message is spreading across the world makes this process that much more meaningful.

Thank you to everyone from around the globe who has shared Avi’s story. Keep the good deeds coming!

– Liz

 

Onions.

Yesterday was amazing. Around 4pm, Kat (my incredibly amazing and talented Associate Producer) emailed me a heads up that she just posted the video up to reddit.com. Reddit is a popular website where people can vote on user-submitted links. The more votes and comments, the more you move up on the site. It’s sometimes called the “front page of the internet,” and many many videos that go viral get their start there.

Well. That’s pretty much what happened.

I was sitting in a meeting, and casually check the view count on the documentary. It was up 2,000 views from the day before. I refreshed the page again, another 1,000 views in what seems like a second. When I left work around 7:00, we had about 6,000 views total. When I got home at 7:45, we were up to 14,000. And that was just the start. (This morning I checked the view count and we were close to 250,000!!!)

As the views rolled in, so did the comments on the reddit thread. So many people wrote beautiful statements of love and support. It seems like many people have an Avi in their life, and this video encouraged them to give that person a little extra love the next time they see them. A lot of the commenters also touched on the things that make Avi so special – his love and dedication to Levittown, his incredible work ethic, and his warm and giving personality. The reddit community also stepped up to give back to Avi in a very tangible way – our fundly page has far surpassed our goal.

Redditors have a number of inside jokes that the frequent commenters use. One is talking about chopping onions when something makes them a little misty eyed. Needless to say, there were a lot of comments about onions. And as I read through the chain, it was like I had a huge stack of onions to chop too.

The entire “Cash Mob” team is just blown away by this outpouring of love and support from around the world. We are truly humbled by everyone’s generosity and kind words. We will update you soon with Avi’s reaction to all of this. But until then, I wanted to share some of my favorite comments from the reddit thread.

Thank you to everyone who is sharing Avi’s story with the world.

– Liz

[–]robspeaks
There’s a man who knew what he wanted out of life and got it. We tend to make things too complicated these days. Our idea of what life is supposed to be like isn’t what it used to be. We forget that our ancestors were mostly like Avi… people just looking for a place to call their own where they could live in peace. Most American kids today would recoil at the idea of working 12-hour days in a convenience store for a week, let alone the rest of their lives. Yet most of them will never be nearly as happy or fulfilled as this guy.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. There’s nothing wrong with being rich or wanting to be rich. But you can’t forget that all the money, nice shit, and “status” in the world won’t make you happy. It won’t.
Great vid.

[–]TheComedicLife
I dream of this someday. To be so content and happy with my job that working 12 hours doesn’t seem like a chore, but rather something to look forward to every day. You can really see the love he has for his job, to the point at which even when tragedy strikes, he feels the only thing he can do is to keep going to work to keep on moving forward in life with the support of his customers.

[–]njnjnynyguy
I am Indian and I know countless business owners like this. They all work so hard spend little time with family to make money and on top of that spread the love.
Just a reminder that the person behind the mask and desk has a story to tell and not get mad at them or make fun for a silly reason.
Jai Ho!

[–]Snycs
This video left me smiling throughout. I really hope Avi is able to get that lease and keep the shop running.

[–]big_cheddars
Reddit this is something more than something you post a ‘muh feelz’ picture to. This is pure humanity, free of malice and ill will. It’s a rare thing, because the world can be a very bad place. But when things like this happen, it makes absolutely everything else so much more bearable. These people did something beautiful, and thanks to this site I got to see it. So thank you reddit, for letting me have this experience.

[–]kashmachine
Oh man this video touched a nerve. My family had been running a similar small shop for 27 years in the local community that sadly had to close this year due to a bigger chain buying us out and other legal issues. On the last day, the turnout of those who came and dropped cards and presents was phenomenal and it resulted in an extremely emotional last day. I just wanted to say to everyone here that you should try shop in smaller shops a little more. Sure their prices may be a tiny bit more expensive, but at the end of the day, it goes a long way and this video shows that perfectly.

[–]KrispyWaffle
Something about this video has instantly changed my perspective on things. I hope one day I can touch that many peoples lives and be that important to them. I wish Avi all the luck in the world and I hope his lease gets lowered a little next year!

[–]Sickfire22
This was the best thing I’ve seen in a while. You can just sense how genuine he is, and how much he shares his love and kindness on a daily basis. I teared up a bit and I don’t even know him, the impact he’s had on his local community is extremely profound

[–]WienerCircle
People like Avi are what we need to think about when we spend our money at big box stores and on Amazon. By saving small amounts of money, we are killing everything that makes America great. We should stop worrying so much about how much we save on small items and on free shipping. Go out and shop local.

[–]GalacticUndead
I have a corner market owner named Louie. He’s owned his shop for 30 years in my neighbourhood, working 12-14 hours a day. He’s always there for small talk, sellin’ me my smokes, beers, snacks. We have running jokes about messing with my landlord (who also owns many buildings on the block), and he’s an indispensable aspect in the 3 years I’ve lived in my neighbourhood. This video makes me want to go into my corner market and give Louie a hug.

[–]Pyrom4n
THIS is the America I want to see.

[–]Stevesu_
Wow. That was awesome! Just when you start getting so jaded with the pain and anger in society, something like this comes along to remind you of the peace and beauty. Thank you for sharing. And thank you Avi.

[–]250TestaRossa
The ability for a town to rally in support of someone in need is truly amazing. Rather than spending their money on something else, they decided to spend it on helping one man continue his dream

[–]hisnamewasyero
I live in the town next to this one and I must admit that this man is a very good soul. I had no idea that he was loved by so many people in our community but I knew there was something special about this man. The first day i stepped in that store as I was just passing through the town and needed a drink. It was a very hot day and I needed to keep hydrated. When I went to give him my credit card for some reason it was declined and so when I had him swipe it again. It was declined for the second time. I grabbed the drink and went to put it back and Avi told me that this one was on him. Iv never walked into a store for the first time and received this kind love. yes it was only a drink, but the simple fact that he was willing to help me out and he didn’t even know me meant the world to me. The next day I went back to his store with 20 dollars and put it on the counter and said thank you for being such a nice person and proceeded to tell him how I wish there was more people in this world like him. Its really nice to see the community come together to help this man out. I live by the motto, Spread Love Show Love and this man demonstrates that to the fullest! Thanks Avi~!

coopertrooper1
I’m next to my house outside because the WiFi doesn’t reach the garage and I’m standing here just bawling and laughing and crying …I’m a grown ass man… My neighbor just asked me if everything was ok. And the only thing I could say was “beautiful”….. I think he might think I’m crazy

LateToSexPartyAgain
I live in Levittown – moved here from Manhattan about 4 years ago when we had a baby. The town is by and large a working class bedroom community close to NYC, so it took one hell of a beating during the Great Recession. A lot of people are hurting and you can feel it. At first glance, the dynamic of that situation is not always pretty and the town’s image suffers for it. But now that I’m deep in it, I’m proud to say this video is the most accurate document of the people here I’ve ever come across. I see kindness like this many times each week (not on this scale of course, but it’s kindness of the same magnitude nonetheless). I also see some nastiness on occasion, but that’s just a normal part of life I suppose. But the amount of everyday kindness here is absolutely not normal. It’s also absolutely beautiful.

 

What’s happening with Avi now?

banner

It’s been almost four months since we gave Avi the surprise of his life, and he’s still reeling from the shock of it all. When he and Bharati watched the final cut of the film last weekend, it brought back all the overwhelming emotion from the day.

“It’s like a small poem. It brought tears to my eyes,” Avi says. “I was unable to breathe.”

We were hoping the film and cash mob would give Avi both a new lease on life and literally a new lease. While we definitely succeeded with the former, the latter has proven to be a bit trickier. Despite his customers remaining loyal more so than ever – many will buy breakfast at the deli next store and then walk to Center Lane to buy the morning paper, for example – Avi is still struggling.

This week, he’ll be sending a letter to his landlord to see if he can cut a deal on cheaper rent. If not, he’ll likely be out by December’s end.

He’s not so hopeful the plea will work, but if he’s really honest with himself, he’s welcoming a new change and a chance to cut back on his 85-hour work week to spend more time with his wife.

“I want to live a new life. I want to live with Bharati. I really miss her. I used to come home, sit and wait for her outside, and we’d chat about our day,” he says. “I want to have those moments back.”

His plan is to work at a lower-stress and better paying job for another five years, and then retire when Bharati does. He’s been gradually telling customers about his potential plan, which has been difficult for both Avi to say and for them to hear.

“I go to the store, I talk about home. I come home, I talk about the store, ” he says. “The customers are my family. What is going to happen with them?”

But the Levittown community isn’t going anywhere. If they’re not trying to convince him that he’ll still be at Center Lane in the new year, they’re giving out their information to stay in touch and offering to help him find a new job. One prospect, to be a Hindu translator and liaison for parents at a nearby Hicksville school, has caught his attention so far.

Whatever may come in the next few months, you can be sure Avi will never forget Levittown – its people, places, and course, the cash mob.

“That doesn’t happen to people like me. That was a miracle in my life. I tell you, I never dreamed I’d be a situation like that,” he says. “I can die happily now.”

-Celeste

‘Cash Mob For Avi’ premieres Weds 10/1

Last Sunday, Avi and Bharati invited us to their home for a barbecue. It was a wonderful evening filled with great stories, and of course, Bharati’s amazing food. At the end of the night, we sat down to show them the final cut of the film. As Avi and Bharati watched the 10 minute documentary about that beautiful day, I kept watching them. At one point I think I saw a glimmer of tears in Avi’s eyes.

Avi and Bharati watching the film for the first time.

Avi and Bharati watching the film for the first time.

At the end, he bolted up and gave me the best and biggest hug. Needless to say, it looks like we got the Avi seal of approval.

So, with that final step checked off, I’m so excited to officially announce we will premiere ‘Cash Mob For Avi’ on Wednesday October 1st.

Check back soon for the film!

– Liz