Editorial posted 3/2/13 – I want to congratulate two groups of people today, for doing a great thing that shows just how much humans can accomplish when they put their minds to it. But maybe that’s wrong. Actually, they showed us what can be accomplished when a group of people put their HEARTS to it.
A group of mostly young adults, late teens to early twenties, put together an event to honor their friend John Peters, who passed away unexpectedly last Sunday. In just a matter of four days, they created an event that rivaled in its success many of the fundraisers that are put on in this town by organizations that have put months into their planning, relying on the years of experience the organizers have in putting on that particular event and many others, experience that most of these young folks lacked.
The Red Shirts (I’m going to call them that because the workers at last night’s event wore red shirts with the image of their friend on the front, with the words “John Peters has a posse” on them) gathered together, many of them at first in the waiting room of the hospital, and later at Bean Town, where John worked. John had been a barista at Bean Town for two years, and Bean Town closed when they received word of his death, for nearly two days. Well, closed to the public, because Bean Town’s owner Matt Krantz opened the doors, overnight even, to his employee’s friends allowing them a place to gather and mourn together, remember together, try to understand together, cope with their loss together, and celebrate a life together.
And from that gathering of friends, came the genesis of a plan. Knowing that John’s family was suffering the kind of loss that no family wants to experience, they wondered how they might relieve some of that suffering. Funerals are quite expensive, and it was decided that maybe they could help the family by relieving some of the financial pressure that comes with unanticipated death.
The group sprang into action. “Bean Town, Friday night” came the word. Drawing on the power of social media, a Facebook page was created, which helped to get the word out that “John Peters, beloved son, brother, and friend passed away tragically on February 24th. His joy and kindness made a tremendous impact on all of those around him and he will be sadly missed. We will be having a benefit this Friday night, March 1, at Bean Town in Sierra Madre to help John’s family with expenses relating to his tragic passing.”
The Red Shirts worked tirelessly late into the night, and were back at it early the next morning, for four days, planning a tribute befitting the man who’s joy and kindness made a tremendous impact on them, in the hopes that they might, in return, positively impact his grieving family.
Before long, more than thirteen hundred Facebook event invitations had gone out. Flyers and posters were designed, printed and posted in local stores. Articles appeared in both online and print media, not only inviting people to attend, but asking for donations for a silent auction to help with raising the funds.
And that brings us to the second group of folks that I want to congratulate. That is the folks of the Bean Town and Sierra Madre community, and the friends and family of those folks who heard about the cause and contributed. Well over one hundred auction items were donated, ranging from handmade scarves and jewelry, to Dodgers, Ducks, and Laker tickets, to a five night stay at a mountain cabin in Mammoth. Many of the items were works of art, created by local artists. A local party rental business donated a huge tent to cover the parking lot, ensuring the event could be staged come rain or come shine. The company with the City’s waste contract donated boxes for the trash, and port-a-potties so that the anticipated crowd wouldn’t all be sharing the one facility in the store. Musicians provided live entertainment at no cost, using sound equipment provided and serviced at no cost.
But perhaps the largest contributions came from the people who attended. Of the 1,300+ Facebook invitees, more than 200 responded that they would be attending, but the crowd at Bean Town far surpassed that. And despite the fact that the gathering was taking place because of a tragic event, the feeling of the crowd was anything but mournful. They knew they were gathered to do something good, to honor someone good. At one point during the night, a member of the local law enforcement’s employee association dropped by and wrote a substantial check, not as a bid on an auction item, but just to contribute. The Mammoth trip was bid up to several hundred dollars. Many people dropped money in the contribution boxes being carried around by the Red Shirts.
Shortly after midnight, one of the Red Shirts posted on his Facebook wall that this community had pulled together to the point where not only have the expenses for the entire funeral been covered, but several thousand dollars above and beyond those costs have been raised, and they weren’t done counting.
Sure, it’s not just people from Sierra Madre that did all this, I know there were folks from neighboring towns in attendance, working and contributing. But it was the community, sans geographical boundaries, of those who knew John, those who loved John, and even some who never knew John but just wanted to help, that made this event a success, and it happened to take place in Sierra Madre.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention the name of the party rental company and the trash company that contributed to the evening’s success, and that was intentional, though it goes against my nature. But I didn’t want anyone to be singled out when so many contributed to the success of the event. Well, that’s not entirely true, I knew I was going to single out one contributor.
Bean Town and its owners (yes, there are multiple, family owners, though Matt Krantz is the public face, and the driving force) showed what can be done when a small business is run the right way. Bean Town was beyond generous in its contributions, donating the venue and much of the beverages and food, and all this on the heels of the loss of two days business. It used its substantial resources in the community to make sure the event went smoothly and was well publicized to ensure its success. It gave back to a community that was grieving and needed a hug. That’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Bean Town, which was delivering coffee to the City’s emergency crew at 3am during the 2011 windstorm, which offered residents (customers and non-customers alike) a generator powered charging station for their laptops and phones during the ensuing power outage, and is a regular contributor to organizations and events throughout the year. Bean Town regularly shows its love for this community, and last night, this community showed its love for Bean Town, and its employees. And in doing so, it showed its love for John Peters, a young man who was loved, respected, and who, tragically, is missing far too soon from the community he loved.
Congratulations to all who put their HEARTS into it, and made this event such a fantastic success.
P.S. – The following was posted on the Facebook event page for the fundraiser several days after the event…
Dear donors, bidders, Bean Town patrons, and event participants,
We would like to extend our sincerest thanks for your love, compassion and generosity. Thank you for giving your possessions, your time, and your money. The event on Friday night was a massive success. In a matter of four hours we were able to raise over $16,000 in cash and checks for John’s family to cover funeral costs and related expenses, and more contributions are still being processed. None of this would have been possible without you.
The tragedy of John’s death was difficult and incredibly painful, but the events that followed were inspiring. He lived a life of examples, examples we have taken to heart. Many of us have found solace in our shared experience and the memories of our friend. It was his life that gave us the strength and drive to make last Friday a reality.
One week ago we were individuals with a common coffee house, but we have come to realize that we are, in fact, a family. John’s legacy is us. His death brought forth an outpouring of beauty and kindness in this community, the very same attributes that characterized his entire life. We were blessed to know him, honored to work so tirelessly for him, and humbled by everyone who shared our desire to honor him. Again, with the utmost sincerity, thank you very much.
P.P.S. – Have you ever been looking right at something, and yet not seen it? I called these friends of John’s “Red Shirts” for lack of something else to call them, when what they should have been called, what they obviously preferred to have been called, was right there written on their shirts, John’s Posse. So my apologies to John’s Posse for not seeing the obvious.