"The most overwhelming thing I've seen in my life:" Gabbard benefit raises $67,000
Alexis Langen watches first half action at the makeup boy's basketball game vs. DGF at Concordia in Moorhead.
Perham junior Zach Gabbard, still hospitalized but improving, was concerned.
According to a post on his CaringBridge website, Gabbard was "very concerned" on Sunday that he wasn't invited to the party that was going on in Perham that day.
When told that the party was in honor of him, Gabbard simply nodded.
And what a party it was.
More than $67,000 was raised in under five hours at a fundraiser held at Mulligan's in Perham. More than 1,100 people attended the event, which included a spaghetti feed, silent auction and gun raffle.
The benefit was run by volunteers, community groups and sports teams, including the Perham High School basketball, football, swimming and volleyball teams, among many others.
According to Missy Graham, who helped to organize the collection of silent auction items for the benefit, there were more than 500 items available for bidding.
"I got things for the auction from the surrounding area, Colorado, New York, North Carolina," Graham said. "Things came from everywhere."
Pat Nordick, lead organizer for the event, said that the volunteers were hoping for upwards of 1,200 visitors by the end of the afternoon. By noon, Nordick estimated that 350 people had been served spaghetti.
Nordick's son Josh is a friend and teammate of Gabbard's, and it was that connection that made him want to help the Gabbard family.
"I knew I couldn't do anything for Zach medically," Nordick said. "So I wanted to try to help financially."
As community members streamed into Mulligan's and community groups and organizations lent their Sunday to help out, Perham boys basketball coach Dave Cresap couldn't help but marvel at the turnout.
"This is the most overwhelming thing I've seen in my life," Cresap said, smiling. "We just want to thank everybody who's come out for this."
A special story
For those who knew Gabbard well - even for those who didn't - time must have seemed to stop when he collapsed, seeing a friend, classmate and teammate lying unconscious on the court.
Since that time, life has returned to normal for most, or as close to normal as possible. As Gabbard moved from Fargo to the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, the basketball season continued, as did school and classes.
Though life continued, the Perham community watched Gabbard's story closely.
"Zach's story touches the hearts of everybody who reads about it," Graham said on Sunday. "Nobody can imagine a child going down like that."
"You can put yourself in the position of his parents," Nordick added. "Perham is always known for helping others in need."
The amount of visits to Gabbard's CaringBridge website has continued to rise. Before even a week had passed since his collapse, more than 50,000 people had visited the site. By this week, more than 300,000 people will have visited the site to learn about Gabbard's story and get updated on his condition.
Newspapers and blogs throughout the state reported on Gabbard's story. People living hundreds of miles away from Perham posted links to oneclapforzach.com on Twitter.
Not long after his collapse, One Clap for Zach shirts started appearing in the Perham schools. Prairie Wind Middle School had a 'Zach Gabbard Day' as part of Snow Week.
Then, the shirts showed up in neighboring communities like New York Mills, Wadena and Pelican Rapids. There they were in Hawley, as the Hawley community raised $3,000 for the Zach Gabbard Fund. There they were in Enderlin, N.D., where the boys basketball team decided to wear the shirts for warm-ups before every game.
"Zach's will and determination is just inspiring to everybody," Graham said.
Another benefit for Gabbard will be held in New Hope, Minn., on Sunday, March 6. "Trivia for Zach" will be held at the New Hope Cinema Grill. For more information, go to newhopecinemagrill.com.
Though he still has a long way to go - Gabbard experienced 13 irregular heartbeats on Saturday, according to his site - he continues to improve.
"Zach's whispers are getting louder and clearer," the most recent CaringBridge post read.
For as far as Gabbard has come in six weeks, that's worth celebrating.