A staggering $842,387 was raised in just two days for the owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, after they came under attack for saying they would refuse for religious reasons to cater a hypothetical gay wedding.
The “Support Memories Pizza” page on GoFundMe.com closed for donations Friday evening following a stunning 48-hour fundraising campaign that took in contributions from 29,160 people. The total raised is more than four times the original goal of $200,000.
“It’s been fantastic, the support we have gotten. I don’t have the words to describe it,” said an emotional Kevin O’Connor in a Thursday interview with TheBlazeTV’s Dana Loesch.
Mr. O’Connor, who owns Memories Pizza with his 21-year-old daughter Crystal, said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement, both financial and emotional. Ms. Loesch and her staff launched the crowdfunding page Wednesday.
“Even without the money—that’s just a secondary thing. Just the kind words is what really built me back up,” Mr. O’Connor said. “You’ve got to have money to live but it’s not important. We would have gotten by. I’m so grateful for that, but I’m just so grateful for the hands that helped hold us up.”
The O’Connors now plan to reopen the pizzeria in an about-face from Wednesday, when Ms. O’Connor said they might have to shut down permanently—and even leave town—in the aftermath of a media firestorm stemming from their comments about gay weddings.
In an interview with ABC 57 that aired Wednesday, Ms. O’Connor said that the pizzeria would not cater a gay wedding, although the O’Connors added that the family had never been asked to do so and had also never turned away a customer for religious reasons.
“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” she told ABC57 in South Bend, Indiana, in response to a question about the state’s embattled religious-freedom law. “We’re not discriminating against anyone. That’s just our belief, and anyone has the right to believe in anything.”
The family was flooded with angry criticism and threats on the pizzeria’s Yelp and Facebook page, including a comment about burning down the pizzeria on Twitter from a local high school golf coach who has since been suspended pending an investigation.
Police in the tiny community of 2,200 heightened security in response to the outcry.
“There was so much negativity. It beats you down to just nothing,” Mr. O’Connor said.
Ms. Loesch said that she has arranged for financial adviser Ed Butowsky to work with the O’Connors on handling the windfall, and that he has agreed to take the matter free of charge. The family will receive the money directly from GoFundMe.
“A lot of people stepped up and they stepped up and they wanted to take care of your family financially because they saw the destruction that some of these people were doing to you guys,” Ms. Loesch told the O’Connors.
Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill Thursday that prevents the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act from being used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Critics had said the newly enacted law gives a “license to discriminate,” while backers said it offers needed religious-liberty protections.