After the Illini beat Northern Illinois 7-2 on Saturday, they returned to their hotel, showered and changed into their travel sweats and re-boarded the bus to head to Harrisburg to deliver the food and funds that were donated during Wednesday's fundraiser. Once the Peoria Charter bus turned into the Arrowhead Shopping Center and headed for the building that formerly housed the Mad Pricer grocery store, a group of people including Harrisburg mayor Eric Gregg, other community leaders and the Harrisburg High School baseball team came into view.
The team got off the bus and exchanged greetings with everyone there, which included a number of Illini parents who had made the trip, then gathered together for a photo with the Harrisburg community leaders and an oversized check for $10,319, the total of the monetary donations collected during Wednesday's fundraiser. That figure included a $2,000 check from First Federal Bank in Champaign as well as many other very generous donations.
The entire group then walked through the former grocery store, which was split into two sections by large blue tarpaulins hung from the ceiling: a "shopping" area where people displaced by the tornado could pick up essential items and a warehouse area where donations had been inventoried and categorized. The semi-trailer, which was driven from Champaign by Kyle Hubbell of Hubbell Trucking, parked at the loading dock and everyone formed a "bucket brigade" line to pass items out of the truck.
After he met the Illini at their hotel in Marion, Hubbell had his truck weighed and the total weight of the donated items came to an astounding 31,980 pounds - over four times the early estimates from the day of the fundraiser! But that didn't faze the Illini and Bulldog players, parents of Illinois players and Harrisburg community members, who needed only about 45 minutes to empty the 53-foot semi-trailer and stack the items neatly on the floor of the old Mad Pricer building.
Next, the Illini players took a short walking tour of one of the hardest-hit areas of Harrisburg, with Harrisburg High School athletic director and baseball coach Jay Thompson leading the way. Thompson showed the Illinois players and coaches some of the extensive damage caused by the F4 tornado on Feb. 29, and also the amazing path of a tornado that completely destroys some structures but barely touches others standing mere feet away. The entire team gained a new appreciation for the severity of the disaster by walking through the destruction.
Finally, the team headed up the street to the B-B-Q Barn, where the Illini finished the day with a full barbecue dinner. Pulled pork, baked beans, cheesy hash brown casserole and cole slaw was served buffet-style and the 35-man group in the orange and blue polo shirts didn't let anything go to waste.
The final tallies on the Harrisburg fundraiser are eye-popping: $10,319.16; 31,980 pounds of food and supplies and $1,100 in gift cards to Walmart and Rural King. The relief effort's immense success could not have been possible without the partnership with WCIA-3 in Champaign, which provided incredible coverage throughout the week. A number of media outlets throughout Champaign-Urbana also helped spread the word and are greatly appreciated for that.
Mike Namoff of This Is It Furniture supplied two trucks that were filled above capacity on Wednesday, then stepped aside to let Kyle Hubbell of Hubbell Trucking haul the 16-ton load three hours south to Harrisburg. Both men deserve many thanks and great appreciation. The United Way of Champaign County collected all of the money raised during the event and transferred it to the United Way of Southern Illinois. Many thanks to both organizations.
The Mahomet IGA donated a large quantity of food, while Atlanta Bread Company, Li'l Porgy's and The Cookie Jar provided food for workers at the fundraiser throughout the day on Wednesday. Reynolds Towing covered the cost of Hubbell's fuel and the Fighting Illini Dugout Club also supported the drive. Champaign Dream baseball organized a number of donations from its team members' families and numerous Fighting Illini student-athletes and Division of Intercollegiate Athletics staff members pitched in during the fundraiser on Wednesday, organizing and cataloging food as it was donated. Huge thanks to all of you.
Most of all, though, we thank the people of Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding communities for their incredible generosity. The unbelievable amount of food and money that was raised touched the people of Harrisburg deeply and in no way would this have been possible without you. The number of "Thank yous" we have received over the past two days has been touching and we would be remiss if we didn't pass them on to all the people who made this possible. So thank you, Champaign-Urbana and Illini nation!