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One big smooch
Effingham Kiss-A-Pig candidate finishes as second runner-up in fundraiser
abbey 2
Ebenezer Elementary School assistant principal Dana Wright, right, and first-grade teacher Lesa Couey, center, applaud after Abbey Brannen kissed Remi the pig during Thursdays assembly at EES. Also shown is Remis owner, Maria Eimer. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

Seven-year-old Abbey Brannen didn’t mind at all that she didn’t win this year’s Kiss-A-Pig competition.

Abbey had a big time at Saturday’s Kiss-A-Pig gala in Savannah, dancing to the live music and playing with the campaign’s live pig mascot, “Remi.”

Abbey still finished as second runner-up, by raising $21,343 for the American Diabetes Association. She still went on stage and kissed Remi at the gala.

And, most importantly, the money raised by Abbey’s Effingham County team, and all the others in Kiss-A-Pig, goes to the ADA for diabetes research and outreach.

“We didn’t lose,” said Johnsie Brannen, Abbey’s mother and campaign manager. “We are all winners, because we are all raising money for the American Diabetes Association and to help try to find a cure for this awful disease.”

This year’s Kiss-A-Pig campaign raised $208,000 “and counting” for the ADA’s Southeast Georgia/Coastal South Carolina region, according to director Maria Center. For three months, teams from Savannah and surrounding communities, including Effingham, Statesboro and Brunswick, hosted a variety of fundraisers.

Abbey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was just 21 months old, and Johnsie has been active in the American Diabetes Association ever since. Abbey, a first-grader at Ebenezer Elementary School, is the youngest contestant in the 21 years of the fundraiser, Center said.

“We thought it was a great idea” for Abbey to be Effingham’s team captain, Center said. “It just helps us draw attention to type 1 diabetes.”

The Effingham community responded, especially at Abbey’s school. Ebenezer Elementary raised $5,300 for Abbey’s campaign.
Nearly $4,000 of that came from a coin drive EES hosted. Abbey’s class, taught by Lesa Couey, raised the most money ($831), so each student in the class kissed Remi during an assembly Thursday at the school.

“The biggest compliment that I got,” said EES assistant principal Dana Wright, “was several kids telling me that they wanted to clean out their own piggy banks to donate their money for Abbey. That just shows how much support they feel for Abbey and how much they love Abbey.”

Wright too is a diabetic, living with the disease since being diagnosed 16 years ago with type 1. After leading Effingham’s Kiss-A-Pig campaign last year and winning with $29,144 raised, Wright helped with Abbey’s campaign this year.

At the school assembly, Wright explained what diabetes is and how it affects the people who have it. Although some of the students are too young to comprehend that message fully, Wright said they understand one thing — they’re helping their friend Abbey.

“The kids really rallied around her — because she’s one of them, and they want to help her,” Wright said. “There are plenty of great causes, and it just so happened that Abbey and I need help for our cause. It just brings it home for our school.”

In addition, Johnsie said, South Effingham Middle School raised nearly $4,000 during the campaign. Also, fundraisers were hosted by local businesses including Papa John’s in Rincon, C&W Repair in Garden City, Chick-Fil-A in Pooler and Belk at Oglethorpe Mall.

“Our ability to reach into these communities depends on the volunteers,” Center said, “so when we have strong leaders like we have in Effingham, it makes our work possible.”

Although Abbey is a little on the shy side, Johnsie said the Kiss-A-Pig campaign brought her daughter out of her shell a bit. Abbey shared her story with many people during the three months of fundraising.

“She has enjoyed being in the limelight. She has enjoyed raising money,” Johnsie said. “She can give people awareness because, at seven years of age, she can tell them all about the disease.”

In the end, that’s what matters — not whether or not Abbey won the competition.

“She got a trophy. She gets to take it to school and show it off, so she’s happy,” Johnsie said.