Crowds jammed into Kelly’s Tavern all day Saturday. They filled the cleared-out Springfield Builders Supply for the silent auction. They were lined up, and bundled up, for the bake sale.
And they dug deep into their pockets, helping the Effingham County Imperial Sugar fundraiser committee easily surpass its goal of $50,000. The proceeds will go to the families of the Effingham-based victims of the Feb. 7 sugar refinery explosion.
Three men from Effingham who were hurt in the blast — Troy Bacon, Justin Purnell and Paul Seckinger — are continuing to recover at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, more than a month after the explosion that resulted in more than a dozen deaths and 40 injuries. One of those who succumbed to injuries from the explosion and fire was Rincon’s Kelly Fields.
With those four men and their families in mind, organizers have raised more than $58,000.
“I think it went way better than we expected,” said Melissa Reagan, a friend of Paul Seckinger’s and one of the event’s organizers. “We expected it to go well. We did not expect it to go this well. We had a crowd out there at 10 a.m., and it was steady all day.”
Even at 5 p.m., as the silent auction closed and the festivities began to wind down, there were still people, Reagan said.
The numbers were more staggering given the conditions — chilly and blustery, with winds whipping through the parking lot.
“It went fantastic. It went great,” said Kelly’s owner Walter Keith. “The turnout was great. The support was great.”
Said Reagan: “I thought it was a great representation of Effingham County and of what our citizens can do.”
Kelly’s is donating 50 percent of its inside food sales from Saturday’s event and 100 percent of its outside food sales to the total.
“It was just amazing, trying to put something like this together so quick,” Keith said. “It makes you feel good to live in a place like this. It was just overwhelming.”
Fundraiser organizers cooked up 2,000 Boston butts at $20 apiece. They sold more than 1,800, which means there’s still about 150 left to sell. Reagan estimated about 1,300 were pre-sold, meaning nearly 500 were bought the day of the fundraiser.
“And just that day, we pulled in $38,000,” she said.
There was a raffle for a 12-gauge shotgun, a set of power tools, a 26-inch flat screen TV and jewelry. Silent auction items included artwork, sporting goods, furniture and beachfront and mountain getaway vacation condos. There was a bucket for donations and T-shirt sales.
“There would be a T-shirt for $12, and someone would give us a 20-dollar bill for it and tell us to keep the change,” Reagan said.
Former New York Giants and Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Dusty Zeigler, an Effingham County High alumnus, took pictures and signed autographs as part of the event.
“I’m just proud to be a part of it,” he said. “It was a gracious offering from Julie Rahn just to be a part of it.”
Keith offered his thanks to the city of Springfield, from the city council to City Manager Brett Bennett to Police Chief Paul Wynn and his department to the maintenance department for all their help.
Gov. Sonny Perdue also sent a letter to the ECIS group, and the letter was read aloud Saturday. The governor wrote that the group and the people there were a great representation of Georgia and of the state’s No. 1 asset — its people.
“I can’t say it better than that,” Reagan said.
The response from the community overwhelmed Reagan.
“It’s a very humbling experience to see what a group of people can do, and I’m not just talking about the organizing members,” she said. “It was a humbling experience to watch. You realize you are a part of an outstanding community. That’s what Effingham County does.”