You get what you give.
Such is the case with Edward Norton and the amount of support and positive feedback he’s received from strangers after launching a fundraiser for an unidentified Syrian refugee known as “The Scientist,” who lost his wife and daughter in a bombing and is fighting stomach cancer.
The Birman actor, 46, first noticed the story, which went viral on Facebook and also garnered the attention of President Obama, on photography blog Humans of New York (HONY) and decided he wanted to help raise money to support the man’s integration into America via his fundraising site, CrowdRise. The campaign has raised more than $450,000 in less than a week.
“I think it’s touched everybody and the response has been amazing,” Norton tells PEOPLE. “I don’t think any of us thought it would be that much, that fast and it’s very, very heartwarming.”
This kindness and generosity from strangers might mean that Norton and Co. will be able to help more people in addition to “The Scientist.”
“We said if we raise an excess of what’s needed to help the one family, we’ll start spreading it around amongst the other families,” Norton says of his hopes to expand the fundraising efforts to include all 12 families profiled in the HONY series. “There’s no reason for us to cap it off and I think it’s important for people to know that piling on, our goal isn’t to make one person a millionaire, it’s to be able to expand it around to some of the other families.”
This particular fundraiser was made possible by a newer feature on CrowdRise which allows people to raise funds for a singular individual vs. an organization. Norton says they were inspired to expand in this way due to feedback from their users.
“We had a lot of people using CrowdRise for charities asking us if they could do [person-to-person fundraisers] and one of the reasons they were not willing to go off site to do person to person assistance was that the sites that do support that charge, in our opinion, way too much money,” he says. “We know that we’re the best mechanism for getting the most of the donation to the recipient and after a year of working on that I feel really confident that we’re a great place to do that for people. This is my first foray into it and it’s been very gratifying.” Not unlike most of his experience in being involved with CrowRise.
“CrowdRise is a happy experience everyday,” he says. “Literally every single day, every single month, people are using it to express their own determination to do something good in the world. It’s like hundreds and thousands of millions of people rallying in these really creative and innovative ways to support causes and charities they care about, or to raise direct support for friends and loved ones who are in crisis in some way. There’s nothing about it that’s not great.”
“There’s the famous line Stalin said, ‘The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic,’ and I think that is the problem with stories about refugees and immigrants is that it de-personalizes them,” says Norton. “What the Humans of New York series does beautifully is that it personalizes and humanizes people again. It makes it so we remember it’s not a statistic, these are humans.”