We all scream for ice cream but in the Rocket City, community members have taken it a step further. What began with a negative post about the state of an ice cream van in the community turned into a rallying campaign to support Mr. Bontu, the neighborhood’s favorite ice cream man.
Mr. Bontu has been in the business for over 20 years, serving up sweets with a smile. He’s not only known in the community, but knows it as well, remembering customer’s names and becoming part of their family with his regular visits.
Despite his shining personality, Mr. Bontu’s van, his only means of transportation, was in need of some repairs. The paint was rusted in several areas and the driver’s window had been busted out when someone broke in. His tires were bare and the van’s music system recently stopped working. In addition, Mr. Bontu was having to travel to Birmingham each week in a rented car to pick up dry ice for his freezer because his van had no way of charging it when he was on the road and wasn’t reliable enough to drive to Birmingham each week.
When someone commented that Mr. Bontu’s truck appeared sketchy on social media, one ‘family’ member knew she had to do something, so Alicia Chunn created a GoFundMe.
“I was like alright maybe if we can just get $1,000 we can touch up some of the paint or something. I created it at 4 p.m. and within 24 hours we had raised over $2,000.” Chunn said.
Other than volunteering at his church, delivering ice cream is Mr. Bontu’s only line of work and something that brings him great joy according to Chunn. She says he has celebrated when families welcomed new members and grieved and prayed alongside families that have lost loved ones. No matter the circumstances, she says Mr. Bontu serves up more than just ice cream.
“This is his only means of work, but he absolutely loves it. He is such a people person so he loves being around people and talking to them. Literally when he sees you, you are his family immediately,” Chunn said.
True to the definition of family, when Mr. Bontu’s van condition came to light, the community knew they had to stand behind him. In addition to sharing stories about Mr. Bontu, donations steadily began to pour in.
I think he has been overwhelmed by how much the community loves him. I don’t think he realized how much connection he truly has.
Chunn reached out to a family friend, Alex Watkins at Alex’s Custom Collisions. After hearing that the repairs would be for Mr. Bontu, they agreed to help repair the van for the cost of materials and even suggested trying to help find Mr. Bontu a newer vehicle.
As days passed and donations continued to pour in, Chunn said they began looking into replacing the old van with a newer model that would be more reliable. With just under 250 donors in a couple weeks and around $10,000 raised, a newer van became a possibility.
“We are so excited. It will still need a paint job, but we won’t need to replace his tires, window, door locks, etc. The van is very nice on the inside, has new tires, less mileage, and since it was owned by a church previously, it underwent a regular maintenance schedule.” Chunn said.
The remaining funds will also be used to bring some fresh updates to Mr. Bontu’s new ride that include:
- Freezers with chargers for when he is on the road
- A new sound system with 4 speakers
- Caution lights on the front and back of the van for when he makes stops
- A full 360 camera system to check for children before pulling off
- New lighting inside the van
- A lit menu board for customers
- Neon ice cream sign for the back window
- A main switch board to shut off all electrical components inside the van
- Fresh new vinyl and decorations for the outside
- A large home freezer for backup storage
- A new tag and registration
“Hopefully all of this won’t take too long, but with a separate van, he can still work and get around when needed until his new van is complete and ready for pickup. We are extremely excited to get this van all set up and we can’t wait to show him.”
Since he doesn’t get online much, Chunn says she has been calling Mr. Bontu to share updates as they’ve come in and share some of the nice comments people have made about knowing him. She said he has been overwhelmed by all the support.
“He was in tears. He thanked it all to God and said it was a blessing. I think he has been overwhelmed by how much the community loves him. I don’t think he realized how much connection he truly has.” Chunn said.
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Lauren Lee is a longtime dog mom transitioning to life as a rookie human mom. She is married to her college sweetheart, Josh, and they welcomed their son, Oliver, to the world in June. Lauren is a Jacksonville State University alumni and has been a published writer since she was sixteen. In her free time, Lauren enjoys reading, writing, knitting and hiking with her two dogs.