Editorial – Following Tragedy, a Community Pulls Together to Do Good

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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.

With gratitude,
John’s Posse

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.

10 Comments on "Editorial – Following Tragedy, a Community Pulls Together to Do Good"

  1. Melanie Savage | March 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm |

    Oh my. I, too, was brought to tears reading this editorial. My daughter is a member of the Bean Town family and I know how much John’s death stunned and devastated her. But her BT family brought her through it — in the first days and through the preparation of this amazing event that I was privileged to attend. They all brought each other through it and by doing so, helped so many of us who didn’t know John understand just how extraordinary he was. And how extraordinary he will always be in the hearts of all those who loved him. I am SO PROUD of the red shirts — each and every one of you. You restore optimism and hope in all of us in a very cynical age. Hugs to all you ‘kids’.

  2. On behalf of Joanna, Matthew, and myself (the owners of Bean Town) I would like to express my gratitude to the residents of the city of Sierra Madre and surrounding communities for their loving hearts and open wallets Friday night. The unofficial totals of all the money donated and items auctioned off look likely to cover all the expenses related to John’s funeral and cover most if not all of the remaining expenses that the family incurred during this past week.

    I would also like to thank the most amazing staff any business could have and the young people who spend most of their evenings at Bean Town for what they accomplished this past week. It gladdens my heart and gives me hope for the future to have people such as these working for us and around us.

    John Peters was an amazing young man. The hearts he touched went far beyond Bean Town and the surrounding communities. I always knew that John was a giving and caring person. I found out this past week just how giving and caring he was. His sister said at the services that as a child John would always give away his toys to the neighboring kids. Even in his death, John Clifford Peters continued to give. It was mentioned at the services that 50 people were helped by John being an Organ Donor. Thank You John.

  3. Thank you. Thank you to everyone who was a part of this in any way. Thank you to the Bean Town family, who has held me with strong arms and taken care of me despite their own grief.

    Alicia (John’s girlfriend).

    • Alicia, you have my very deepest sympathies. I only met John once, though I saw him in Bean Town occasionally. I’m more of a morning shift guy. But my son (Keelan) spent a lot of time with John, and from what I hear, he was a heckuva guy. I’m so sorry he was taken from you (and everyone) far too soon.

    • Becky Roe | March 3, 2013 at 7:45 pm |

      Hi Alicia
      I knew John particularly because of you. I’d been going to Beantown since forever. Including the last couple years. One day, as I was ordering my regular iced coffee, John said, hey, do you work at APU? My girlfriend goes there and i thought i saw you the other day. Indeed, I do, I said … and that began our friendship. Plus, it turned out we had other mutual friends and acquaintances. As I do with most of my students, John became adopted into my “APU family”.
      Anyway, you are in my heart, as is John. I hope he knows how much we all love him and miss him. Becky Roe

  4. Bjane C. Mendoza | March 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm |

    Thank you to all who put their HEARTS together to honor a Man whose HEART belongs TO GOD. John Clifford Peters must have done what is acceptable to man and glorified Christ’s name. His death moved a community led by Bean Town and Red Shirts in helping out John’s parents face their problem.

    May the Lord, Jesus Christ bless you all!

    Cebu, Philippines


  5. Rod Diener | March 2, 2013 at 9:53 pm |

    You make a living by what by what you get, you make a life by what you give..this young man, John, had quite a life in his 23 years, I did not know him well, but from what I saw at BT I wished I had.

  6. Jerry/Grace Kilmer | March 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm |

    God bless the imprints this young man left on this earth. Bless John’s family (and friends) as they recover from this loss.

  7. I love my tiny town.

  8. Simplicia Alonzo-Pasicolan | March 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm |

    Thank you Bean Town and thank you Red Shirts. I cried reading this. I’m so moved by the community’s generosity and expression of love for John Clifford Peters. God bless you all.

    From this part of the globe.

    Sim Alonzo-Pasicolan of Los Banos Laguna, Philippines.
    (friend of Cliff and Jeannie Peters)

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