King said he wasn't even 100 percent sure it would work, but nearly a year later, more than 11,000 people have been throwing away any doubts. That's how many people have bid for celebrities to follow them using TwitChange, an online celebrity auction on eBay.com that King sent up.
The bidding started on Sept. 15 and ends Saturday. King set the monetary expectations low but said the site has raised about $230,000.
The site is run through eBay Giving Works, the online auction company’s charity arm.
The "Twit" part of the charity involves Twitter and eBay. Potential bidders can choose from 180 celebrities including Usher, the Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzalez or one of the Jonas Brothers. The auctions offer three choices: the celebrity will follow the winning bidder on Twitter for at least 90 days; the person will re-Tweet one of the winning bidders' Tweets; or the star will mention that person in a Tweet.
The "Change" part refers to helping A Home in Haiti, an organization King set up to support the Miriam Center in Port-au-Prince. The center houses and educates children with cerebral palsy, severe autism and other disabilities. It is overcrowded and in need of repairs.
TwitChange.com has been visited by more than 26 million people. More than 11,000 people and businesses have bid on a celebrity, King told the AJC on Thursday afternoon.
“Some people are bidding on people they love, but a lot of people, they are just doing it because it’s a good cause,” he said.
More than $200 million has been raised for charities since eBay Giving Works started six years ago, spokeswoman Amanda Miller said.
High-profile charity auctions include Warren Buffet’s annual lunch, which this year raised $2.1 million for The Glide Foundation. Oprah Winfrey auctioned off some of her wardrobe to raise money for the Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
But just because records show $230,000 has been raised, that doesn’t mean King has the money to spend.
“We have to wait for each and every person to pay,” he said, saying he’s confident that most will, given that it’s a charity auction.
Kompolt, a San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based online charity auction company, is taking care of that. Spokesman Joey Leslie said once bidders reach a certain dollar level, the company verifies that person's identity and that he or she will pay money if that time comes.
"Those big giant bids, those are real bidders. Those are people we've talked to," Leslie said.
Even an amount close to $230,000 won’t cover the $1 million King said it will take to build a new Miriam Center, which currently is two small apartments inside a compound that includes a senior citizens center, King said.
He latched on to building a new center after visiting Haiti, which had been hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January. King said his friends in Haiti, ones he interacted with and cracked jokes with, were now posting pictures and Tweets saying, “My brother is dead,” or “I can’t find my family.”
“I had never seen anything like this -- people who were basically begging for help online -- and I just felt helpless,” King said. “It really gripped me in a way I never predicted.”
He created aHomeinHaiti.org and raised money to send almost $2 million in tents. He linked up with the Miriam Center while visiting Port-au-Prince in July.
Even though it had been six months since the earthquake hit, the damage was such that
"it was almost like the earthquake had happened six weeks ago," he said.
King adopted the Miriam Center project as his own and contacted “Desperate Housewives” co-star Eva Longoria about TwitChange.org.
“We decided instead of doing a charity auction, we’d do something that would be simple for celebrities and have them auction off themselves on Twitter,” King said. “We developed a pretty slick proposal and pitched it to any person on Twitter that would listen.”
King said he and local volunteers have tried to shy away from any attention to focus on the auction itself.
“A lot of our volunteers are just regular folk who attend our church who can say, ‘Wow, I’m doing something that is making a difference, is getting international attention,’” he said. “Locally for us, it’s been pretty exciting to get involved.”
King, a Morehouse graduate, is referred to as the “Facebook Pastor,” partly for his wide use of social media for efforts such as raising money and toys for needy schoolchildren at Christmastime. He also discusses faith and community on his online blog, Shauninthecity.com.
King was featured in the AJC as one of Atlanta's holiday heroes in 2009.