About a month ago in the basement of his Ellicott City home, DJ Chris Kopec threw a party for thousands of people watching online.
Schools had been temporarily closed, businesses had begun instructing employees to work from home and large-scale events were being cancelled or postponed due to restrictions on the size of gatherings to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Kopec told Baltimore Fishbowl that he, his wife and their three kids were unable to unwind with their normal go-to Saturday activities like going to sporting events.
“Nothing felt right,” he said.
So Kopec, who has deejayed events for Under Armour and the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders as a side-gig, decided to bring his equipment out of the garage and down to the basement to throw a “quarantine dance party” and broadcast it on Facebook Live.
He only expected family and friends to watch, maybe even a few of his customers from his day job as a U.S. Lumber sales executive.
But by the end of the livestream, more than 26,000 people had tuned in, Kopec said. And as of 1 p.m. Friday, the video has amassed more than 1.3 million views.
“It’s wild … It still doesn’t feel like it’s real,” Kopec said.
Kopec started deejaying 25 years ago when he was in middle school after watching high school students serve as DJs at his school dances.
“Instead of dancing I would always be watching what they were doing,” he said. “Then I asked them if I could come be behind the table, and started carrying their gear to events.”
Eventually, the older students graduated and Kopec took over their duties, with his parents driving his equipment to gigs until he earned his driver’s license.
“I was sort of the town DJ,” he said.
During the online party, viewers contributed to Kopec’s “virtual tip jar,” which he used to buy 500 pizzas from River House Pizza Co., in Ellicott City, for the members of Howard County Emergency Services.
As a former volunteer firefighter in high school and college, Kopec said he wanted to give back to first responders who are among those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since his initial performance, Kopec has held several other virtual dance parties, and with additional tips and growing attention, he has partnered with other businesses to feed even more people.
Holly Poultry helped Kopec distribute 60,000 pounds of chicken to area food banks. He was also able to gather bagels from H&S Bakery, eggs from Nature’s Yolk and bacon and cheese from State Street Poultry & Provisions to donate 30,000 breakfast sandwiches to the University of Maryland Medical System, Mercy Hospital and the Anne Arundel County Food Bank.
Most recently, Kopec wrote a letter to Hershey Foods in his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The company provided 12,400 chocolate bars, which Kopec distributed to the Maryland National Guard.
Kopec said his viral videos have given him a platform to be able to pay forward his good fortune to people in need.
“I think that’s one of the best parts of this… It feels great to be able to help others,” he said.
Kopec’s next DJ performance will be livestreamed from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 18.
This time around, Kopec has partnered with the Ulman Foundation to raise money to support adolescent and young adult cancer patients. (Full disclosure: Ken Ulman, a former director of the foundation and brother of its founder, is a part-owner of Baltimore Fishbowl.)
An anonymous donor pledged $25,000 to the foundation. Listeners are invited to donate during Kopec’s livestream on Saturday to match that gift.
People have already contributed more than $3,400 to the fundraiser. Donations can be made here.
Kopec said he was happy to work with Ulman and support people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic, and in fact many of the patients are some of the most vulnerable with their immune systems already being compromised,” he said.