LEWISTON — David Gervais is a dishwasher at the Bates College Commons. He’s worked in the college’s kitchens for 39 years, since graduating from Lewiston High School.
He’s also a Dempsey Challenge fundraiser. A very good one.
Gervais is consistently one of the event’s top fundraisers, taking home the prize for several years in a row for having the most donors back him. (This year, it’s 427 and counting.)
In his off time, he hustles by hanging hundreds of event posters around town and sending out 1,000 letters each summer for pledges.
In nine years, Gervais has raised more than $105,000.
He jokes that he and actor Patrick Dempsey are “like that,” crossing his two fingers.
“(He’s) super nice,” said Gervais, 58. “Every year at the (fundraiser) banquets, he would come over and say hi. He met my mom, my mom — just wow — was so amazed. There were a lot of girls around and they would say, ‘How do you know Patrick Dempsey?'”
Years ago, Gervais raised money for local diabetes walks, raising more than $100,000 over 12 years. His father had diabetes and the cause was special to him.
But about the time those walks stopped, the Dempsey Challenge started up as a key fundraiser for the Dempsey Center.
“My mom had friends who died of cancer,” he said. It made sense to shift his energies.
In the first eight challenges, he raised more than $87,000. So far this year, headed into this weekend’s ninth annual event, it’s $18,448.
Butler Bros. in Lewiston has each year matched or contributed to Gervais’ total, giving $5,000 this year.
John Butler Jr., the company founder’s son and a high school classmate of Gervais, said his sister beat breast cancer, which made the Dempsey Center’s work important to them.
He’ll walk the Dempsey Challenge 5k with Gervais on Saturday.
“He’s just a nice guy,” said Butler. “He’ll put a smile on your face; he doesn’t complain. He’s dedicated.”
For the second time, Gervais will bike as well on Sunday, the 10.6-mile route.
“Two years ago (Patrick Dempsey) said, ‘Dave, you should do the biking, too,’ and I said, ‘OK,'” Gervais said.
When it comes to fundraising, in addition to the letters, he goes door to door in familiar neighborhoods. At Holy Family Church, where he’s the head usher, the parishioners have been great, he said.
Most donations are modest, $5 to $15, but they go up to an annual check for $1,000 from one donor.
Dani Campbell, the Dempsey Center’s marketing manager, said it’s been amazing to see how much Gervais does year after year.
“We also just have a soft spot in our hearts for him here,” she said. “We’ve nicknamed him Top Dollar Dave. We’re so lucky for his continuous support and friendship.”
Gervais is greeted with hugs each time he goes in.
There’s just a joy in helping people, he said.
“I love doing it,” Gervais said. “When I get letters back from my sponsors, they say, ‘Everything you’re doing, don’t give up, keep on going,’ and that’s the way I am.”
David Gervais of Lewiston is a dishwasher at the Bates College Commons. He has raised more than $18,000 this year for the Dempsey Challenge, and more than $105,000 since he started fundraising for the challenge nine years ago.
David Gervais shares a picture of himself riding during the Dempsey Challenge. He will walk the 5k on Saturday and ride 10 miles Sunday during this weekend’s Dempsey Challenge.
David Gervais, left, of Lewiston with Patrick Dempsey.