Cindy Innella came home this weekend.
The Pennsylvania transplant, originally from Ilion, wanted to teach her boys about how a community can come together in times of tragedy.
Her sister, Suzanne McGraw, and Suzanne’s husband, Shawn, were major organizers of Sunday’s Love and Compassion Benefit, which was designed to help those affected by the initial fire and subsequent shootings that devastated the valley only weeks ago.
Taking $10 bills for admission and handing out coupons, Innella and her 11-year-old son, Ryan, welcomed droves of supporters, from victims’ family and friends to county officials to giving strangers, who crowded the American Legion in Mohawk for the event.
“We had people waiting outside at 11 this morning,” said Innella, 42, tearing up. “I knew I had to come. I knew I had to be here. I just don’t have words.”
The benefit was just as much a fundraiser for the shooting victims’ families and those displaced by the fire that Kurt Myers set to his apartment building as it was place for locals to share and heal, said Shawn McGraw, president of Envision Event Management, the group who started the event.
“You hear people saying, ‘It couldn’t happen here,’” he said. ”But now we’re seeing what happens when it does, and everyone is stepping up. There’s so much help, it’s overwhelming.”Before the event started Sunday, McGraw said more than $8,000 worth of checks and donations were mailed from all over the country. He said he expected nearly 2,000 people to come to the all-day event.
Part of the event was an off-site auction, held at Francesca’s Banquet Hall in Ilion, where people stood in a line stretching to the sidewalk in front of the building just to get inside. Hundreds of items were donated to be raffled to help with the fundraising.
“Hopefully, it can bring some sort of easement,” McGraw said, referring to the victims and their families. “It won’t take away the pain, but we’ll do anything we can do to ease their minds.”