Justin Ross is smart. And a do-gooder. And he likes breasts. So what, right? Well, the So What is that Justin started Boobs4BourbonSt, a website that in barely 10 days has collected almost $14,000 for hurricane Katrina relief efforts, funneling the money directly to big name charities.
The site, which went live on Sept. 8, allows those with no
money and those with little money to help disaster victims. Similar to a fundraiser once done by breast cancer charities,women and men can
either send in an anonymous (or not!) photo of their bare chest or forward a
confirmation email from a charity, assuring Justin that they have given at
least $5 to the relief effort. The $5 provides entry in the boob photo gallery, where each chest is emblazoned with "boobs4bourbonst.com," the only requirement for the photos. That, and an emphatic request for no other kind of nudity.
Justin, a 23-year-old Californian, agreed to do an IM interview with me from
his college dorm room in
Irina: So how did you come up with idea?
Justin: As much
as I'd like to take credit for the idea, it came from my friend Midnite—real
name Salli—on a gaming message board, TNRevolution.com. She and her friends said,
New Orleans is known for boobs, and guys will pay for boobs, why not combine the two, and do some good?" She posted about it, just kind of jokingly, and I thought, "Hey... I could do that." So I took the idea, and with help from a few others, we ran with it. When we hit $10,000, I called Salli. She was ecstatic. :-)
Irina: What motivated you to go from joking about it to doing it?
Justin: I'm not ashamed to say I'm not the wealthiest person on the planet. I'm a student up to my ears in debt, and this looked like a way that I could help out with the relief effort, while giving the same chance to others in my position—that is, giving them a way to help out, if they can't necessarily afford to donate cash they can donate pictures. I loved the idea, and saw that it had potential, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Irina: Have you heard any criticism?
Justin: So far,
the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We've had one piece of negative
email where the person (couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman) wrote that
our efforts could have been better applied to something more
"appropriate." The email was short and had appalling grammar and
spelling. I responded that nothing is more appropriate than raising funds for
Irina: Do you feel like they may have a point, in terms of making "light" of the suffering?
Justin: With anything like this, there are people that are going to be offended, and I can understand that. At the same time, people cope with tragedy in their own way. Our way just happens to be fairly lighthearted and entertaining.
Justin: And full of boobs.
Irina: Have you heard from anyone who'd been affected by the hurricane?
Justin: One of
the guys on the message board (where we got the idea) is from
Irina: Did you have any discussion about how some people who hadn't contributed yet may do so because of the boob factor?
Justin: We figured that there were people who wanted to donate, but maybe hadn't taken the time yet, or hadn't really thought about it. One of the biggest issues with any charity or fundraiser is getting the word out and putting it right in people's faces. This was a fun way to do just that. Also, because it was something unique, we knew the public response would be phenomenal (which it has), and would get passed around, spreading the word even more.
Irina: How many people would you say have donated?
Justin: By the
current numbers, each boob picture has raised, on average, $213. ;-)
At the moment, we’ve gotten around 450 separate donations, and I think there's another 10-15 in the inbox waiting to be verified right now. It's been hard to keep up. There are about ten people working on the site, helping confirm donations and create accounts, upload picture submissions, and deal with support issues.
Irina: Has anyone covered you in the media?
heard of a couple of mentions on local radio. I think the last one was on KDGE
102, The Edge, out of
Irina: Do you have sister, girlfriend, mom, friends who sent in a picture?
Justin: No girlfriend, and my family hasn't donated (I'm not entirely sure how I'd feel about that), but I do have a few female friends that have donated. They were more than happy to share.
Irina: Which of the charities has been the most popular?
Justin: Red Cross, by far. It may be because they're the "big-name" charity, the one with the most media exposure. Also, the fact that their minimum online donation is $5, whereas the others are $10.
Irina: How have you treated the pictures that come in?
Justin: That's one of the things that's great about the site. This isn't a popularity contest or a “Girls Gone Wild” video. These are real people. No airbrushing around here!
Irina: Have you heard from the charities?
Justin: No, not yet. We're working on getting some kind of direct partnership, if only to make it easier to track donations, instead of relying on forwarded confirmation emails. We're also looking for smaller, grassroots charities.
Irina: How long do you foresee keeping the site live?
Justin: So far, we haven't seen any indication of the site slowing down (quite the opposite), and we'd like to keep it going as long as there's interest, or as long as we're needed. Over the next few months, for sure. Maybe longer, if our visitors stay interested beyond that timeframe.
Irina: What did your mom/dad say about the site?
Justin: My dad's been interested in the site (but hasn't asked for an account, yet) and likes me to keep him updated. My mom went so far as to say that my grandfather would be proud, which always feels nice.
Irina: Are you a geek? Do you blog?
Justin: I've been working with computers since I was about twelve (thanks to that grandpa I mentioned), did tech support for EarthLink and WinFirst/Surewest, for a total of about three years between them. I'd consider myself a big geek, just at heart. I couldn't program my way out of a wet paper bag, but I'm not half-bad with hardware. I've had blogs off and on, but I never really got into it, mostly because I can't think of more than four or five people that would care about what I had to say on any given topic.
Irina: Until now! What kind of job you want after graduation?
Justin: I'm leaning toward something in government. Not necessarily a congressman or senator, but I think I'd really enjoy being an aide or assistant to one. Maybe work my way up to working in the president's cabinet. Most of those positions aren't really places for idealists, though.
Justin: There's nothing more ideal than boobs!