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Shining a light
Friends, neighbors rally around young mother stricken with cancer who wants to help the community
1213 Ashley Toler 1
Luminary bags at Elsha Stouts Lost Plantation home stand ready for the Dec. 16 Light the Night Cart Parade through the subdivision in an effort to raise funds for Ashley Tolers medical bills. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

The day the Toler family moved to Effingham County, they got the heartbreaking news.

Ashley Toler, 31, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was six months ago. Since then, the cancer has spread to her spine and her brain.

But Toler’s neighbors and the community are doing everything they can to help.

Elsha Stout, Melissa Capwell and Julie Dickey, all Lost Plantation neighbors of the Tolers, are hosting a neighborhood fundraiser to help the family meet the financial burdens of medical and other expenses. The Light the Night Golf Cart Parade will feature decorated carts and luminaries lining the route in honor of Ashley Toler. It will be held Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lost Plantation subdivision.

Stout said that she wanted to do something after feeling “helpless” as she watched her friend’s family endure the devastation of cancer.

“I’d been visiting the hospital,” said Stout. “I’d been visiting her family and seeing them, their ups and downs. I’ve been going over there every day, just laying with her and praying with her and crying with her.

“And two weeks ago, the ambulance showed up in the middle of the night and I thought she was gone and I didn’t get to see her before she left and I was afraid I wasn’t going to see her again. And so I just felt helpless.”

And they decided to host a neighborhood fundraiser. In addition to the golf cart parade, the event will feature a 50/50 raffle and other fundraising contests, with all proceeds benefitting the Ashley Toler Fund, set up at BB&T.

Stout and Toler had become friends at the neighborhood pool. Stout’s two older girls are the same ages as Toler’s two boys, Eli and Abe, 6 and 5 respectively.

Since their story has gotten out to the public, the family has been overwhelmed by the outreach they’ve felt from the community.

Eli, who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Abe have been getting lots of toys, and will have oceans of Christmas presents. But Stout said they’re scared and confused by the situation. So, Hope For Savannah is helping to find them counseling and summer camps to cope.

United Way has come to the rescue to meet a number of the family’s needs, including paying their utility bills, and Ashley Toler’s story has been aired on a few local radio stations as well, bringing in additional support. After Toler’s story was broadcast, money from all over the area came in. An anonymous donor offered to pay their mortgage, and a travel agency offered the family a free vacation for whenever they’re ready to take one.

“The community, the outpouring has been above and beyond what we could have ever even imagined,” said Stout.

Toler is a PTO member at her sons’ school, Blandford Elementary School, and the PTO is planning a popcorn fundraiser next month where students can pay $1 and eat popcorn on a Friday. BES, Rincon Elementary and Effingham County Middle School hosted Jeans Days for teachers to raise money for the family, and BES cafeteria staff made Thanksgiving dinner for the family.

After the diagnosis, the Tolers became very active in their church, Savannah Christian Church, and they attend the Effingham campus whenever they can. SCC and churches from all over the state have her on their prayer lists and there have been numerous community donations for the family, including a wheelchair, toilet paper and lots of meals.

“She said the hometown she grew up in, nobody would have done anything like this for her,” said Stout. “And she doesn’t understand why people she barely knows have come together and done this for her.”

Those close to Toler are holding out hope for her.

“On a regular basis, they say that brain cancer is terminal,” said Stout, “and sometimes — but we are not believing this — they give people with her type of brain cancer three to seven months to live.”

Stout said that they received test results showing that the cancer in Toler’s spine “was completely gone.”

“She’s been talking about all the things going on in Effingham that she feels are just so horrible with so many deaths in our community, so many young deaths in our community,” Stout said. “When she gets better, she wants to be an advocate for (those who in need in the community).”

Said Dickey: “She wants to be a light in the community.”

Stout said that Toler’s in-laws have moved to Effingham temporarily to help with the boys.

Toler’s husband Jeremy works at Georgia Power, and the two have been together for 17 years,  meeting their freshman year in high school, and they were married in 2002. They moved to Rincon from West Virginia after Jeremy found a job with the power company.

The Sunrise Rotary Club of Effingham County has offered to process donations to the Ashley Toler Fund as tax deductible and donations are being accepted at BB&T, account number 5242640065. For more information contact Elsha Stout at