Cryptocurrency charity event raises $70K for Toronto's homeless youth

It may be Christmastime in the city, but cryptocurrency users gathered around a different kind of tree to get into the holiday spirit and raise some money for those in need this year: a Merkle tree.

Event believed to be 1st of its kind in Canada

Truebit COO Robbie Bent, left, with Tracie LeBlanc, associate director of communications with Covenant House. Bent helped organize a cryptocurrency charity event for Covenant House Toronto. The event is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada. (Supplied)

It's that time of the year when Christmas trees light up the night sky and bring holiday cheer but this year Toronto's cryptocurrency users gathered around a different kind of tree to get into the holiday spirit: a Merkle tree.

"We thought it was a funny pun," Robbie Bent, Merry Merkle Tree event organizer and COO of cryptocurrency company Truebit, told CBC Toronto.

"What if we had a Christmas Tree that lit up based on events happening on the ethereum blockchain? It's the first hardware Christmas tree that was connected to the blockchain."

The event hoped to raise $25,000 for Covenant House Toronto using the ethereum blockchain, a digital ledger for cryptocurrency ether, but after attracting the attention of cryptocurrency companies and enthusiasts from around the world, they managed to collect thousands more.

Since Thursday's event at Assembly Chef's Hall, near Richmond Street W. and University Avenue, cryptocurrency users raised over $70,000 for Covenant House Toronto, a charity focused on helping at-risk, homeless and trafficked youth.

"We noticed there's a lot of people who made a lot of money this year in this space and a lot of people who have a real desire to give back," Bent said. "We thought this would be something cool that was just fun for a really good cause. Our community just wanted to try it out, and the results were really, really awesome."

The Merkle tree that's the focal point of the event is something that's commonplace in cryptology and computer science, including cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether. It helps manage and organize data, but now for Christmas it's helping raise funds for some of the city's most vulnerable.

Most of the money raised for Merry Merkle Tree was through ether, but donations were also accepted through regular old cash, too. However, Bent says cash donations only totalled around $3,000.

'A real community'

Organizers believe the money collected to date will provide about 100 young people with food for three months, but after quickly blowing past their initial goal, they've set their sights even higher and are hoping to raise $200,000 or enough for a year of food for the shelter.

"The event was a blast and everybody was really happy with the turnout, including Covenant House who I think was shocked by one, the ability to put on an event for free in three days, and then two, the ability to triple the goal," Bent said.

The charity says that its thankful to those who donated and it's happy to find a new way to gather donations.
Merry Merkle Tree has raised over $70,000 so far for Covenant House Toronto. (Supplied)

"We're very grateful to the blockchain community and excited about this new opportunity to raise funds for our agency through cryptocurrency," Bruce Rivers, executive director of Covenant House Toronto, said in a press release.

Organizers are continuing to ask the community to step up and support the cause throughout the holidays. 

"There's a real community here. You have 3,000 people who are super obsessed with this new technology and the way it's going to change the world, and I think those are the type of people who are really willing to give back," Bent added. "I think people who have done very well are looking for authentic ways to give back, and Covenant House is one of those authentic ways."

The fundraiser is expected to continue on for at least another two weeks.