During the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chris Kopec threw a little basement dance party to cheer up his family.

The 2000 graduate of Virginia Tech and part-time DJ ended up lifting the spirits of millions around the globe and raising funds to help thousands of those in need.

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“We were pretty stressed out as a family that first week when the kids were out of school, so I decided to fire up the DJ gear and head down to the basement for a dance party,” said Kopec, who lives just southwest of Baltimore, Maryland. “I jumped on my personal Facebook page, figured we would have 50, maybe 100 people max join us … we had over 20,000 in two hours.”

The viral event on March 21 led Kopec to plan more online dance parties that have now been collectively viewed more than 5 million times. The success of the parties prompted Kopec to use the events as fundraising tools to support first responders and people in need. One recent dance party, which was held in partnership with Holly Poultry Inc., raised 60,000 pounds of chicken for the United Way of Central Maryland.

“It’s been really overwhelming seeing people’s reactions,” Kopec said. “That first night I couldn’t go to sleep because my phone and email kept buzzing. I got over 1,000 messages that night.”

One of the first messages received was from a nurse in St. Louis, Missouri who was facing the daunting task of managing a unit that, when needed, will become a hospital’s dedicated COVID-19 unit.

“I stumbled across your Live Facebook feed tonight, and I just want to say thank you for lifting my spirits,” she wrote. “I shared your Facebook Live broadcast tonight on our unit’s group page. It was great to be normal and happy even for a little bit. Hope you will do it again because it matters to us.”

The message is just one of thousands of texts, photos, and videos the family has received from across the country during the past two weeks. And they’ve had people from South Africa to Australia join their virtual dance parties.

“We’ve gotten so many heartfelt notes and videos. We’ve seen people on one of those doorbell cams dancing. We’ve seen a bird dancing. We even got one video of a lady and her dog dancing,” Kopec said.

Kopec is no stranger to giving back to his community, in fact it’s part of what drew him to Virginia Tech.

“You know, Ut Prosim, that was really the way I was brought up. I think that’s part of why I loved Virginia Tech so much while I was there,” Kopec said. “For a while, I wasn’t even going to go to college, but once I got there, I feel in love with the school. Virginia Tech changed my life.”

While at Tech, Kopec was not only a member of the Hokies track and field and cross country teams, but also a member of the Blacksburg Volunteer Fire Department. When he began to notice the online tip jar filling up during that first dance party, he immediately thought of paying it forward to first responders. To date, proceeds from the virtual dance parties have fed hundreds of firefighters, 9-1-1 center operators, and law enforcement members in Howard County, the area where Kopec lives with his wife, April, and their children, Logan, Maddie, and Declan.

The chicken donation event came about when Zachary Fine, CEO at the Baltimore-based Holly Poultry Inc., issued a special challenge to the DJ and his family. The company pledged to donate a pound of chicken, up to 50,000 pounds, to the United Way of Central Maryland for every viewer during the March 28 dance party.

By 9 p.m. that night, the event had topped the 50,000 mark, and the company decided to up their donation to 60,000 pounds as a gift to April Kopec, whose birthday was the following day. The first delivery of chicken to a food bank took place earlier this week.

“That was just incredible to see,” Kopec said. “Helping people is what we started this for, and it’s been a great stress reliever for our family. We now feel like it’s our duty to keep that going the whole time we’re quarantined.”

At the time of the interview, Kopec was preparing for the April 4 party, which was School Spirit Night.

“I’ll be wearing my Hokie gear,” Kopec said. “I always felt like I was at home at Tech, the way the community came together and was always taking care of people, then that slogan came out [This is Home] , and I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s true.’”

The next virtual dance party is scheduled for April 11 and is Medical Professionals Night.

Check out the official DJ Kopec Facebook page for more information and to learn about upcoming events.

— Written by Travis Williams