The Beach community again opened up its collective hearts and wallets for someone in need. This time it occurred at the 2013 Smokin' In The Mangroves BBQ competition at Santini Marina Plaza last Saturday.
Residents and visitors attending the event had a chance to contribute $1 to a special benefit on way to voting for People's Choice for best ribs and best chicken wings at the event. More folks plainly offered money -dropping in $20, $50 and $100 bills into the fundraiser - without accepting anything in return.
Beach Elementary School fifth grader Lee Ann Wheeler, who is suffering through a medical condition, and her family were the benefactors to receive a total of $1,786 from the generosity.
Beach school student Lee Ann Wheeler is pictured with Principal Larry Wood during the Smokin’ In The Mangroves BBQ competition, an event that brought in $1,786 for her medical bills.
"I am just elated," said Fish Tale Owner Al Durrett about the amount of the fund raising. "I think when someone is down and out on the island and the word is put out, everyone wants to jump in and help. That's what happened here."
Durrett started the ball rolling by putting in $500 from a botched parking/trolley arrangement.
"We were supposed to have parking at Lovers Key State Park, but something happened, and we couldn't park there," said Durrett. "We had hired Patty from Ku-Ku Ku-Nu-Ku who returned the money because she found out what happened with the parking. I told her I didn't want it back because I felt like I ruined her whole day as she could have chartered somewhere else. She said 'no' then I told her I would give it to the family that our benefit was for. She got a big smile on her face when I told her that."
Lee Ann contracted a sinus virus that went into her brain cavity where it formed puss pockets. The rare condition -one that her doctor of 30 years in practicing medicine has seen only 10 times- required costly surgery.
The Wheelers have had to drive Lee Ann up to Tampa Children's Hospital on repeated occasions to go through several surgeries during the ordeal. It placed quite a financial burden on her mother and father, Wendy and John Wheeler, who had to take time off from their respective jobs for the travel, surgery and now in continuing to take care of their young daughter. Wendy is still on a leave of absence.
The good news is that Lee Ann is in recovery now. She is scheduled for another MRI to see if the infection on her brain hasn't turned into fluid, according to Wendy Wheeler.
"An infection can get out of hand so innocently," said Wendy. "We have to go through speech rehab now. It sounds like she is OK, but her memory isn't always there. She knows what she wants to say, but her brain isn't always connecting with what she wants to says."
That condition should improve with time, especially with a young person.
"There might be a little bit of a delay, but not a major delay," said Wendy.
The benefit comes after many local establishments from on the Beach and off Beach went to bat for the Wheelers by collecting money through raffles or passing the hat during Super Bowl parties. The list included Junkanoo's, The Mermaid, Valerie's Lounge, The Smiling Dog, Danny's Laze Days Saloon, The Beached Whale, Castaway's, The Shamrock Irish Pub, Half Shell Lounge and The Beach Pub.
"I want to say a very special 'thank you' for everything everybody has ever done for us," said Wendy.
Smokin' In The Mangroves winners
Smokin' In The Mangroves Event Coordinator Bonnie Roberts applauded the top vote getters for "best ribs" and "best chicken wings" among the 11 competitors (pro and amateur) as well as the People's Choice winner at the barbecue competition Saturday.
Here is a list of the winners:
- Best Ribs: Pro division
1.Bonez Brothers (PHOTO)
2.Texas Tony's BBQ Shack
3.Simply Southern BBQ
- Best Ribs: Amateur division
1.Last Place (PHOTO)
3.Beach Brothers BBQ
- Best Wings: Pro Division
1.Jonesez BBQ (PHOTO)
2.Simply Southern BBQ
3.Smoke Shack BBQ
- Best Wings: Amateur Division
1.Beach Brothers BBQ
- People's Choice