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La Jolla businessman’s apparel start-up aims to donate millions to charities while thanking first responders

La Jollan Ian Leopold has started a website for performance apparel.
La Jollan Ian Leopold has started a website for performance apparel and plans to donate a large portion of the sales to six charitable groups.
(Courtesy)

A La Jolla businessman is using his experience in the sports apparel industry to help individuals and charitable groups in need during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Ian Leopold, chairman and chief executive of American Collegiate Sports & Fitness, a company based in New York City that works with 250 university sports departments in providing event marketing and performance apparel, was motivated to begin an offshoot of ACSF after witnessing the pandemic’s damaging effects on nonprofit fundraising.

Leopold started AQONIQ using ACSF supply and vendor infrastructure to create its own brand of “fundraising performance wear,” targeting nonprofits that “lost a primary source of revenue” through canceled fundraising events throughout the spring and summer, he said.

Leopold, who runs ACSF remotely since moving his family to La Jolla a few years ago to be closer to his wife’s relatives, based AQONIQ in La Jolla.

Under AQONIQ, Leopold began the website firstrespondersthankyou.com, which sells sports apparel branded with “FR 2020 First Responders Thank You.” For each T-shirt purchased, the company will donate one to health care workers in local emergency rooms and intensive care units and will donate 25 percent of revenue to six charities.

During the initial launch of the website, the company donated $25,000 worth of the apparel to the COVID-19 team at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista.

Firstrespondersthankyou.com‘s promise to donate 25 percent of revenue is an unusually large amount. The 10 percent that most companies donate is “just not enough to have an impact,” Leopold said.

Firstrespondersthankyou.com kicked off its campaign with a donation of $25,000 worth of apparel to Scripps Mercy Chula Vista.
Firstrespondersthankyou.com kicked off its campaign with a donation of $25,000 worth of apparel to the COVID-19 team at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista.
(Courtesy)

As the website is e-commerce only, with a cost structure different from a brick-and-mortar establishment, it was easy to pledge 25 percent, Leopold said. Besides, he was driven during the pandemic to consider what he could do “to give back as a businessperson. Let’s not be so greedy,” he said.

Leopold said his goal is to donate $1 million to each of the six charities by the end of 2021. They were chosen specifically for their work to ease pandemic-related stress. “We want to show them we’re thankful for what they have going on,” he said.

The six charitable partners also represent Leopold’s broadened definition of a “first responder,” beyond the “health care heroes,” he said. “These are charities that are having real positive impact and are what I’d consider first responders.”

Leopold selected Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound senior citizens and in some towns is serving nine times more meals than before the pandemic, he said.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America also will receive donations. “They stepped up and made their clubs available to first responders’ children,” Leopold said. “To me, that’s a first responder. They weren’t really getting the love that they should.”

No Kid Hungry is another child-oriented charity to receive funds. “Many kids, the one meal they get is when they go to school,” Leopold said. “If school’s closed, how are they getting that food?”

Others are the First Responders Children’s Foundation, which supports “families who lost someone while helping with COVID-19”; Jhpiego, which is associated with Johns Hopkins University and aims to help communities respond to the coronavirus; and Best Friends Animal Society, which provides a way for families to get pets “during a time when they’re so isolated.”

For more information, visit firstrespondersthankyou.com.