A few years ago, NPR’s Marketplace did a story called A Personal Bailout Party, LA Style about the charity event I had to save my house from foreclosure. The piece, and the fact that I had a fundraiser for myself, not only angered financial-bloggers from coast to coast, but some of my friends and family as well. Since I had been irresponsible with my finances up to that point, it was believed by some that I had forfeited the right to expect any help.
I learned that you can have a Kickstarter campaign to finance your film on the life of dust mites, but please don’t ask for help with your mortgage if your credit score is under 600.
The Marketplace story called my benefit a “party” and made it seem more like a bunch of frat guys asking for beer money than an actual fundraiser.
“I cannot believe this story. If I defaulted on my mortgage, I’m pretty sure my friends would be calling me a dumbass,” said a blogger from Boston.
“I’m surprised she has any friends,” wrote another commenter.
But my personal favorite post came from an Illinois man, “Christine is an idiot and deserves every horrible thing she has coming to her.” Wow, hater, that’s kind of harsh. I defaulted on my mortgage, I didn't slaughter Santa Claus.
At the time, I was friends with the reporter who covered the benefit. In trying to keep my interview light, I came off badly. I talked about how I had no cash cushion and how I had lost count of the many times we had refinanced. The reporter said, “A lot of people would call that using your house as an ATM," to which I replied, “Guilty as charged.”
It was Saturday after Thanksgiving when my boyfriend Andy lost his job. I worked part-time and made barely any money so this was a huge blow. We had no savings and had refinanced our home so many times that we were stuck with a subprime loan. If the golden rule of real estate is location, location, location, then we were screwed, screwed, screwed.
Someone suggested that we hire a guy they knew to help us get a home modification loan. We followed their advice, and hired him, but all he did was to tell us not make any mortgage payments for a few months. When he failed to get us the loan modification, we asked for our money back, but he refused to give us the $2,500 we paid to him. Like so many others in our situation, we had been conned.
We started getting daily calls and letters from our lender. Things were getting intense. “I pray you lose your home,” my mother said to me when she heard that our house was in serious danger of foreclosure. She continued, “That way you’ll be forced to move in here, and I’ll have someone to take care of me.” I guess that was her way of saying not to hit her up for money.
Since there was no way I was ever going to let my mother’s prayers come true, I had to get creative and that’s when I decided to hold a charity event. I hoped I’d make enough to get back on track with the payments.
My plan was to get as many as of my comedy buddies together as I could to do a show. I’d get donations for food, beverages, and auction Items. The admission for the show and refreshments would only be $20.00. I decided do the show at the same theater that I had been doing my essay show at for years. The owners generously agreed to let me have my benefit there free of charge. Everything was falling into place.
I got my first wave of backlash when I sent out the initial email asking for donations. One friend said that she was sorry that I was having such a tough time financially, but felt that the benefit was only a quick fix and that I’d soon be in the same position all over again. Another scolded me for having no savings and a third just stopped speaking to me entirely.
But some of my friends were very generous, volunteering to help with whatever was needed. Along with the show there was a silent auction for which we got donations of wine, crystal and TV show box sets. People sent me checks and gift cards, while others came to the show and brought food and drink.
The show itself was fantastic, with classic Acme comedy sketches and hilarious monologues performed by Alex Borstein, Jackson Douglas, Taylor Negron and some other comedy pros. Most of the people who came to the show seemed to enjoy it. I don’t think anybody felt as if they had been cheated of their $20.00.
Throughout my life, I have certainly done my share of charitable giving. I’ve stuffed envelopes, worked fundraisers for Aids Project LA, gave a down-on-his-luck comedian money because he asked for it on Facebook, signed petitions, wired stranded friends money, donated to cancer, heart disease, the environment, animals, and I even gave an elderly lady (whom I had never met before) a ride home from the eye doctor.
I’m not a saint, but I’ve tried my best to help people, which is why I didn’t think having a fundraiser for myself was a horribly self-centered idea. I needed help, and I felt that I had earned the right to ask for it.
In the end I didn’t lose my home -- I just lost friends. Some didn’t come to the benefit, and just quietly held it against me, while others attended silently seething. Eventually the tension destroyed any positive feelings we had about each other.
The benefit earned $2,000.00 and we were able to get back on track with our payments. I will be forever grateful to everybody who helped out and to those who attended. I’m lucky that they were not like the commenter who said, “Hell would freeze over before my wife and I would attend such a party.”
Would I do it again? Yes, but I sure hope I never have to.
Now a few years later, I still feel vulnerable and sensitive about this topic. It hurts me that some of my friends and family not only didn’t support me, they judged me. I felt as if I had no other options except to have the benefit, but maybe I should have been more honest about my situation and not put a light spin on it. It’s scary for me to admit how desperate I really was and how much I was willing to sacrifice.