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So. Maryland wildfire relief benefit nets $80,000 for Kansas farmer victims

By JAMIE CLARK TIRALLA
AFP Correspondent

LA PLATA, Md. (May 16, 2016) — A benefit auction in Southern Maryland for Kansas farmers and residents impacted by wildfires exceeded organizer’s expectations, generating more than $80,000 in proceeds from the auction held on May 6 at the Charles County Fairgrounds.
“We had no idea what to plan for and we didn’t know how many people were going to show,” said Ronnie Farrell, a professional auctioneer with Farrell Auction Service, and co-organizer of the Wildfire Farm Relief Effort and Benefit. “I thought if we could do $25,000…but I never imagined we’d bring in this much.”
All of the money raised will be donated to the Ashland Community Foundation in Ashland, Kan., to be used towards relief efforts in Clark County, which was significantly affected by the recent wildfires.
Farrell said the number of registered bidders at the auction was just shy of 300 and he estimated “conservatively” that there were at least 500 people gathered at the fairgrounds that night.
In all his years as an auctioneer, Farrell said he’d never seen such a quantity of high quality items brought together, all of which were donated by individuals or local businesses.
The top ticket item was a wild turkey hunt, which brought in $5,000.
The hunt was donated by Larry Konrade, who is a member of the Ashland Community Foundation Board and a hunting outfitter in Kansas.
The hunt’s winner called in by phone from Alabama, adding $1,500 on top of his $3,500 winning bid.
Two other popular items were framed limited edition prints of the sketch “From the Ashes,” signed by the Kansas artist Joel Milford. Together, the prints fetched almost $4,000.
One of the most moving items, Farrell said, was a pedal tractor.
“The folks from Hoober donated the pedal tractor and that brought in $1,800,” Farrell said. “I think everyone felt like that was something special — that the employees from the Middleton location would go together and buy it for the auction.”
What got to him the most, though, he said, was when they called for donations in what they  called “Fund the Need.”
Farrell told the audience that night that he was hesitant to ask for cash donations and insisted that no one should feel pressured.
As he saw the bidder numbers go up, Farrell said he was overwhelmed.
“Fund the Need” brought in $10,000 with cash donations ranging from $25 to $1,000.
“While the money is important, that’s not what made me proud,” Farrell said. “These were regular folks, some that I know are struggling too with the economy. To see that much money and it not be coming from big businesses…it was just overwhelming.”
St. Mary’s County farmer Brian Russell was another co-organizer of the event, along with his nephew David Hancock, Jr., a farmer and president of the Charles County Farm Bureau.
They agreed that the auction was about more than money.
Russell said he still gets emotional when he thinks about how the event came together.
“I’m one of those people who feels like we’ve lost our culture and I was reminded that maybe we haven’t lost it, but it’s just evolved,” Russell said. “This proved to me that Southern Maryland still has the same heart and soul.”
Russell said there were too many people to thank who came together to organize the event.
All five of the Southern Maryland Farm Bureaus were involved and made $500 contributions to the event’s starter fund, as did the Wild Turkey Federation, the Southern Maryland Agricultural Commission, and local business Great Mills Trading Post.
All of the food for the event was donated, Farrell said, including 200 pounds of hamburger supplied by Sudlersville Meat Locker in Sudlersville, Md.
Rather than charge for the food, Farrell said they decided to have people pay by donation.
He said that brought in a significant amount of money, perhaps as much as $7,000 or $8,000.
Hancock said that the event wouldn’t have been possible without Farrell and his team or the dozens of volunteers who helped before, during, and after the event.
“It was definitely a community effort. That was the most touching part for me,” said Hancock. “It wasn’t just the people who were bidding, but all the people who were working and giving their time towards the event.”
Jan Endicott, vice president of the Ashland Community Foundation, said when they got word about the event’s success, everyone was speechless.
“We really didn’t have any idea it would be that big,” Endicott said by telephone from Kansas last week. “There’s no way we’ll ever be able to say ‘thank you’ enough or to repay this, except for paying if forward next time.”
Funds raised from the Southern Maryland auction will go to farmers as well as individuals who lost their homes.
“We wanted to concentrate our efforts into a single area for the most impact,” Russell said. “There are people there who need their homes rebuilt, and vehicles to drive, or fences rebuilt before they can even think about buying more cattle.”
Farrell said he would continue to collect money that trickled in after the event and then turn it over to the Calvert County Farm Bureau, which is acting as the treasurer for the cause.
He said he hopes to make a special presentation to the foundation in the next couple of weeks.
Russell said the sense of community that came from the event was worth everything to him.
“People just don’t come together like that anymore except for weddings and funerals,” he said. “The care and love…was just incredible. To see so many people that you know by name or at least by face is very moving.”