Video app TikTok’s algorithms are to thank for COVID-Elvis being spotted outside EDCL’s Barnswallow Place in Elmira last week, where he was spreading good times and collecting food donations for a good cause.
Rodger Hanna, residential manager for Elmira District Community Living, says he was scrolling through TikTok when he came across a video of Cameron Michael Caton performing Elvis classics under the pseudonym of COVID Elvis while following all the appropriate public health measures such as physical distancing.
“It was a nice, little video. And the hashtag at the bottom said that he was based in Hamilton,” said Hanna, reflecting back to first discovering the performer a couple of weeks earlier. “He was going on and doing these performances, so, then I traced him from there to Instagram. Then I direct messaged him on Instagram, and that’s how we started communicating back and forth.”
The transition from Caton appearing on his smartphone to appearing in Elmira was relatively easy, Hanna said.
Having COVID Elvis come and perform outside for the residents was considered an excellent replacement for the usual Valentine’s Day dance that could not run due to COVID-19 restrictions, he added.
“We didn’t have anything planned. We normally put on a big Valentine’s dance for all of our individuals – it’s one of the highlights. The two biggest things they look forward to every year: our Halloween dance and our Valentine’s dance. I’m the manager that sits with the recreation committee, so I’m involved in planning those things.”
For Caton, the revised performances stemmed from the public health measures put in place when the coronavirus was discovered.
“This all happened in March when they shut down my ability to go out and sing in retirement homes such as this,” he said of locations such as the EDCL home.
A friend asked Caton to perform some songs from a distance, all Elvis songs for the friend’s mother. Caton came dressed up and found more people reaching out to him, asking him to bring his pandemic-friendly Elvis persona to their locales.
Rather than performing for the sake of performing, Caton began collecting food donations and later discovered a bag of feminine hygiene products among the bags of food, inspiring him to expand his tour and rename it ‘The COVID-Elvis Food Drive and Basic Human Essentials Tour.’
He has even created a GoFundMe campaign that has a cash goal of $10,000. The goal is to help expand operations by purchasing a new trailer to be able to transport more food from performances to food banks, creating office space and the like. Currently, donations stand at $1,640 for the project.
“Last year we did the 242 drives. The tour has been a way to help out the area – we collected 32,500 pounds of food. We did bags for women’s shelters, duffle bags for the homeless,” said Caton.
The residents and staff were excited to see Elvis in Elmira last Friday, and he delivered a three-song set including closing with ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.’ Caton sent the crowd dancing and smiling after his snowy performance and also sent out hopes of coming back down for a barbecue/performance when the weather and public health measures allow for it.
The tour continues online on Facebook. A group has been created to support COVID Elvis and share some updates and performances under the same name as the GoFundMe project, ‘Covid-Elvis Food Drive & Basic Human Essentials Tour.’