Brookings rallies to help babies

March 28, 2007 11:00 pm
Sara Robinson kisses her daughter, Kelsey, who will undergo heart surgery next week. (WesCom Wire Service/ Carissa Wolf).
Sara Robinson kisses her daughter, Kelsey, who will undergo heart surgery next week. (WesCom Wire Service/ Carissa Wolf).

By Carissa Wolf

WesCom Wire Service

BROOKINGS – A baby with a faulty heart and a premature newborn stole the hearts of local residents and business owners. And now a community of supporters is opening their hearts and wallets to Brookings' smallest residents.

As three month-old Kelsey Kay Robinson and six-week old Samuel Austin Harrell undergo costly out-of-town medical procedures this week, Brookings-Harbor community members are helping to ease the financial stress on their families

Three month-old Kelsey Kay Robinson is undergoing open heart surgery in San Francisco today to repair a hole in her heart. She may also have a valve replaced. Insurance is expected cover 90 percent of the estimated $100,000 operation but that still leaves the family with a nearly $10,000 in anticipated medical bills plus travel-related expenses

After Harbor business owners Dale and Jacki Rettke read in the Curry Coastal Pilot, The Daily Triplicate's sister paper in Brookings, about Robinson's condition and the impending financial strain, they knew they had to do something to help the young family.

"You gotta give back to the community that gives to you and that's all there is to it," Dale Rettke said.

The Rettkes, who own Mattie's Pancake House, plan to give back by donating 100 percent of the profits from food sales at Mattie's on Thursday. Dale said that could total about $3,000.

"That's what I hope for," he said.

The Rettkes plan to donate that money to both the Robinson and Harrell families.

The Pilot recently profiled Samuel Austin Harrell, who was born 13 weeks early and is currently hospitalized at Eugene's Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Since Feb 13, when Samuel Austin was born, his father, James K. Harrell has had to make weekly commutes to Eugene to see Samuel Austin and his wife, Maggie, who is staying with the baby. Samuel Austin is covered by Social Security benefits, but the family still has to pay for the bulk of transportation costs and must forgo pay when they miss work.

News of the Mattie's donation left Maggie Harrell speechless.

"I don't know what to say," she said in a telephone interview from Eugene. "Wow. Everyone's great. The town is great."

Harrell said that Samuel Austin's cheeks are fattening up but that he'll still need to stay in the hospital for several more weeks.

"They needed some help." Dale Rettke said. "Watch this community. Anytime someone needs help, this community really steps up."

Before the Pilot went to press with the story of Kelsey Kay Robinson, family and friends had already began fundraising efforts. Businesses and other community members also agreed to help by collecting cans and posting information about a soda can drive in stores and on area bulletin boards.

"If we did not live here and somewhere else, we would not get the support we're getting," Kelsey's mom, Sara Robinson said a week before the surgery.

At press time, the Robinson family was enroute to San Francisco and could not be reached for comment.

Dale and Jacki Rettke's philanthropic spirit rubbed off on their employees who plan to donate some of their own money to the families. At least one employee, cook Jana Ritz, plans to donate her wages for the entire day to the families.

Ritz, a life-long Brookings resident, doesn't know either of the families but said that she can understand the financial strain that comes with caring for a sick baby.

"It's a good cause and we could put the money toward the kids," Ritz said of the fundraising efforts at Mattie's.

Animals and people have always been causes that Ritz has dedicated her time and money to and now she encourages the rest of Brookings to add to her generosity.

"We're donating the food. You donate the money," she said

KURY Radio listeners heard a similar call to action when on news of the Robinson family's situation was broadcast.

On Saturday, two listeners challenged others to add their contribution to the fundraising efforts. After that, one KURY listener after another pledged their support.

"The phones just started going nuts," said KURY DJ, Steve Braun. "I'm normally off at nine. Quarter to eleven and noon, the phones just rang off the hook with $100 challenges."

Braun said that the pledges were at least $100 each and totaled nearly $1,800. About a dozen businesses called in their support and one business, Blue Pacific Reality, donated $500.

"Nobody messed around. They wanted to make it stack up," Braun said.

How to help

•What – Mattie's will donate 100 percent of profits to the Robinson and Harrell families. You can also add contributions to a jar on the restaurant's counter.

•When – Today

•Where – Mattie's, 15975 U.S. Hwy. 101.