Bears linebacker Roquan Smith and punter Pat O'Donnell have discovered a unique way to raise money and lift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic.
Through Cameo—a social media platform that allows fans to pay for personalized video messages from athletes and other celebrities—Smith and O'Donnell are taping and sending special individualized shout-outs to fans.
"I was looking for ways to really reach out and help the community, help Chicago and just bring smiles to people's faces," Smith told ChicagoBears.com. "I know this is a difficult time. But just knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that I can actually have a positive impact on certain individuals' lives, that means a lot to me."
Smith has received requests to send birthday greetings, pep talks to people who are down because of the coronavirus and messages of hope to military members who are stranded in other countries, unable to return home. Click here to receive a message from Smith.
O'Donnell received about 15 requests in the first 48 hours after he joined the platform. Like Smith, the Bears punter wants to infuse a ray of light into people's lives during a dark time.
"For those on the frontlines of what's going on with the coronavirus—doctors, nurses—plus people who are cooped up, kids that can't have birthday [parties], these are special announcements that can put a smile on their face," O'Donnell said. "I thought it would be a unique experience to reach out to fans. That's why I decided to do it."
O'Donnell has received requests from a Bears fan in Ireland to send birthday greetings to his dad, and from the fiancé of a nurse on the frontlines in a Chicago hospital for a pep talk for her and her co-workers. Click here to receive a message from O'Donnell.
The cost for the messages is $50 from Smith and $20 from O'Donnell. "For me being a punter, it's probably a niche market," O'Donnell joked.
The money raised by the two players will be donated to "I Grow Chicago," a community group in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood that supports thousands of South Side residents.
During the coronavirus, I Grow Chicago has delivered hot meals, food staples and educational flyers about COVID-19 to neighborhood residents; provided books and games, bottles of soap and hand sanitizer and drinking water; and launched a virtual tutoring program for students and a daily prayer circle.
Bears Care will match up to $2,500 of the donations generated by Smith and O'Donnell for I Grow Chicago. Fans who would like to contribute to I Grow Chicago can click here.
The Bears had already announced plans to donate $250,000 to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, which was created in collaboration with the City of Chicago, the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago.
Donations aim to provide increased access to emergency food and basic supplies, rent and mortgage assistance, utility assistance, direct financial assistance for household supplies, and nonprofit safety and operations assistance. All grants from the fund will go to local nonprofit organizations, who will distribute services and supplies.
UPDATE: Since this story was posted, two more Bears players have joined the cause on Cameo: Long-snapper Patrick Scales and linebacker Josh Woods.