‘These people are crazy’: Sooke fundraiser fed up with cyberbullying

'These people are crazy': Sooke fundraiser fed up with cyberbullying
Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
File photo.

A Sooke man who organizes an annual online holiday fundraiser for the local food bank says he’s stepping down from the role following an influx of cyberbullying, including death threats, by people on Facebook.

“My mental health can no longer handle it,” said Benjamin Kendrick, who launched the Meanwhile in Sooke Facebook group in 2016, the same year he started the Meanwhile in Sooke Holiday Foodbank Challenge for the Sooke Food Bank.

With more than 31,000 members, people post daily to the group, sharing photos and videos from around Sooke and chatting about local topics.

But through the years, not all of the discussion has been positive, according to Kendrick.

“The cyberbullying has been bad ever since I started the group, really. So, the last eight years,” he said. “It’s been really bad this year for some reason. I don’t know why.” 

Kendrick aims to raise $15,000 annually through the challenge, which starts accepting donations in December. Money collected goes to the food bank, and the 2023 feat, which wrapped up on Jan. 2, 2024, raised more than $18,000, contributing to the around $100,000 raised over eight years.

Sooke Food Bank president Kim Metzger tells CHEK News the fundraiser “has been a blessing for us. We are all volunteers, and fundraising takes a lot of time and energy. This amount of money is huge for us, and we are grateful.”

And while the donors, whom Kendrick says are “very generous every year,” have kept his passion for the fundraiser alive, he finds others are fed up with it all.

He says he writes to his group multiple times each day throughout December to get the word out about the fundraiser, using the platform’s @everyone function to alert all group members when he publishes a new post.

“I use a function that alerts people about a certain post. It’s called the @everyone function, and some people don’t like that,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

‘You win, cyberbullies’

Kendrick says he doesn’t understand how “just a notification” can “set (people) off,” adding, “They message me death threats, they come to my house and scream at me. They’re local people, they’re not bots on the internet. They’re real people.”

“A couple of them have said, ‘If I see you around town, I’m going to assault you. I know what you look like. I know where you live,'” claims Kendrick.

“These people are crazy.”

So he took to Facebook on Jan. 1, saying he was bidding farewell to the group, and while his posts may have been “annoying” to some, it doesn’t give them the right to “bully, harass and threaten violence” upon him. 

“This will be the last year for me doing this fundraiser … I will also not be (the) face of this group any longer, no longer moderating or monitoring content for the foreseeable future,” said Kendrick. “You win, cyberbullies, hope you are happy.”

According to the Government of Canada, cyberbullying — the use of computers, smartphones or other connected devices to embarrass, mock, threaten or be mean to someone online — hurts other people and can change lives.

“Some of the actions taken when cyberbullying occurs can also be against the law,” it says, pointing to its website for more information about cyberbullying.

Metzger says it’s “unfortunate that people are mean,” adding she’s “sad that he is choosing not to do it again, but I am happy that Ben is taking care of himself. Ben and his group have done amazing things for our community.”

Kendrick finds social media is quite toxic.

“In the beginning, it was fun and not toxic,” he said, “but now I’m beginning to think that we should move away from the internet and do things face-to-face a little more.”

Still, as he steps away from the group, he’s hoping someone else will take the reigns as the Holiday Challenge organizer to keep the tradition going.

“Hopefully, somebody else can take my spot maybe and do the fundraiser,” said Kendrick.

“But it won’t be me.”

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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