Whole Lotta Phone Calls Goin’ On by Ben Fong-Torres
In the Facebook box that asks “What’s on your mind?” I announced, the other day, “I'm supposed to be writing a book, but went & moderated a panel for the Broadcast Legends – including Hall of Famer Jon Miller. Fun. Tomorrow — Friday -- 5 to 7 pm -- I'm working the phones for KNTV (Ch. 3)'s fundraiser for the victims of the Japan earthquake. If you can, tune in, call in and ask for me. I'll do Elvis, Dino,
Dylan for you. Anything to get a few more dollars for the relief effort.”
As always, I got lots of supportive comments, of which my favorite was this, from author Susanne Pari: “This is all good, Ben, but I know writing avoidance tactics when I see them.”
Then Larry LeBlanc chipped in: “Yeah, we writers are like that.”
Yes, we are. But the earthquake relief fund was well worth falling behind a few pages. When I showed up at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern California’s building, where the phone bank had been set up, the tote board showed about $77,000 donated since 7 a.m.
It was now almost 5, and, as I took my seat, alongside TV journalists James Hattori and Wendy Tokuda, and playwright Philip Kan Gotanda and his wife, director Diane Takei (she directs plays; not her husband), and JCCNC board member Rumi Okabe, the phones went silent. It was 5 o’clock; the station hadn’t plugged the fundraiser; people were still at work or on the road.
We socialized, and some of us made calls to friends to pull in donations. We practiced looking like we were on the phone, for when NBC Bay Area/KNTV’s reporter did a live report. But the station didn’t mention the phone number, so we twiddled our thumbs again until the 6 o’clock news. The number was flashed.
Suddenly, the phones began ringing and we were at it non-stop, getting people’s credit card and other info and answering questions they might have about their donations. Runners took our completed forms to add to the tote board.
The room filled with visitors, including Hiroshi Inomata, the new Consul General of Japan in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee, supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and David Chiu, the prez of the Board of Supes. Chiu even took a brief turn on a phone.
By the time I was relieved, at 7, I was exhausted – some of the calls were difficult to hear, with the chatter from
the ten or eleven other workers around me, and from the dozens of other people in the room. But I was also exhilarated. I’d handled donations ranging from $20 to $200, and one of my call-outs to friends resulted in a $500 contribution.
The tally board now showed some $330,000. By night’s end, with a boost from the 11 o’clock news, the JCCCNC (with support from Comcast and NBC Bay Area) had collected almost $417,000, counting matching funds, donations to its Web site, and separate grants. The phone bank pulled in about $124,000. Good work, in more ways than one.
Or, as Dianne Takei, the producer and director who invited us to the event, put it, “Not bad for a day’s work.”
Of course, the work goes on, and more is needed. You can make a donation without having to hear me on the phone asking for your credit card info. Just send a check to Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, c/o JCCCNC at 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco CA 94115. 100 percent of donations go directly to relief efforts in Japan.
Also, my buddy Dale Minami, the civil rights attorney, has said that his firm will match 50 percent of any donations sent to the Japan Relief Fund, c/o Minami Tamaki LLP, 360 Post St., 8th Floor, San Francisco CA 94108. They’ll add their match and forward all checks to the JCCCNC.
So, here in earthquake country, that’s what’s on my mind.
And see? Writing this blog, I once again avoided working on my book.
Photo caption (L to R above): Ben Fong-Torres, TV journalists James Hattori and Wendy Tokuda, playwright Philip Kan Gotanda and his wife, director Diane Takei, and JCCNC board member Rumi Okabe.