Wondering what’s up with people pouring buckets of ice water over themselves in Facebook videos? No, it isn’t a quick way to get relief from summer’s heat: It’s a “cool” stunt designed to raise awareness about ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control your muscles and causes progressive paralysis. The condition is fatal and there is currently no cure, though medication can sometimes slow its progress.
The fundraising phenomenon was started by 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Frates is now paralyzed, eats through a feeding tube, and cannot talk. The gist of the challenge: Someone willing to douse themselves with a bucket of ice water posts a video to social media using the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge and nominates multiple friends to do the same. Anyone who doesn’t accept the challenge within 24 hours is asked to make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice.
Pete’s parents Nancy and John Frates led a group of about 200 people in a mass bucket dump in Boston’s Copley Square on Thursday. Celebrities have gotten in on the act, too—Matt Lauer, Martha Stewart, Elizabeth Banks and “The Fault in Our Stars” star Ansel Elgort have gotten soaked, along with Boston Bruins Torey Krug and Brad Marchand.
Even 86-year-old Ethel Kennedy, widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, took the challenge over the weekend. She then nominated—wait for it—President Obama (watch the video on the Facebook page of Ethel Kennedy’s son Max). The White House has yet to respond on whether Obama will participate.
The campaign is certainly appealing to the country’s philanthropic side. The president of the ALS Association told the Associated Press that donations over the 10-day period ending on Thursday were up by more than tenfold to about $160,000. Last year during this time, the organization raised $14,480. And that’s not counting donations to local chapters around the country.
UPDATE (8/12/14): Yesterday, the ALS association announced that they’ve raised $1.35 million from July 29 to August 11, with more than $1 million coming in over this past weekend alone.
Beth Lipton is the Food Director of Health.