By Barbara Baker
Over the past 12 years, the small, but mighty ranch-based group known as Feeders and Friends, have raised just at a half million dollars which it has given to 12 deserving families. During a celebratory dinner last week, the group presented the last of the proceeds it raised at its August 2014 event to Cody Waitley and his parents.
Cody, 17, was in dire need of a new heart last year. The son of Doug and Mary Kay Waitley, he had Dilated Cardio-myopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. It was one thing to hope that a matching donor might be identified, but it was also daunting how much such a gift would end up costing. Aware of his circumstances, the Feeders and Friends organization identified Cody to be the recipient of their fundraising. The group was able, in the end, to donate $64,000 to the family.
Feeders and Friends have, over the past 12 years, managed to perfect a fundraising machine that is the awe of many other non-profit groups. The one day event, always held the third Saturday of August, has raised between $26,000 and $64,000 each year. Organizers plan a feedlot rodeo, inviting teams from area ranches and feedlots to come and compete in the event, paying out a certain percent of the entry fee back to the top three winning teams. Some proceeds come from a Calcutta held each year and food is served during the day from the barn on the 4-H grounds. But, the real money is raised during a late afternoon to evening auction. Beautiful Western art, halves of beef, equine equipment, John Deere toys, home baked goodies, metal art, and many other items are donated to the event by area businesses and individuals and then sold to generous buyers. Generous buyers, most of who live within a 50 mile radius of New Raymer. Ranch people. Feedlot owners. Retirees. They give and they give well, all to honor the family of a young person who has either died too soon, or who is in a dire situation medically and needs financial help. Sometimes the proceeds are used to pay for medical care and other expenses and sometimes the money is put into a foundation to pay out scholarship awards over time in the name of the honoree.
“The majority of our fundraising comes from the auction,” says Verlyn Mahan, treasurer of the Feeders and Friends organization. “The items start selling well and they sell well clear to the end. Our supporters understand that it is for charity and they come prepared to give to a good cause,” he adds.
At no time was the giving spirit of this event more prevalent than it was this last year. The feedlot rodeo, which is usually a little wild and always entertaining, usually attracts about 25 teams who pay a significant entry fee. They like to compete in front of the crowd and naturally, they hope to win back a little bit of their entry fee, or the prize buckles that are awarded each year. However, in 2014, due to an outbreak of vesicular stomatitis in horses in this part of the state, the rodeo portion of the event had to be cancelled. In their generous tradition, about half of those who had entered the event, did not ask for their entry fees back, but said to donate it to the fundraiser. Even without the actual rodeo taking place, this was the group’s most successful money-raising year so far.
The day wasn’t a total loss. Organizers put their heads together and came up with an Ag Olympics competition where teams of youngsters and others could compete on foot doing various rodeo and ag-related tasks. A few of the feedlot and ranch teams actually showed up and competed in the fast footed action. Several area FFA Chapters came to compete. The crowd that showed up was still entertained.
Feeders and Friends is now making plans for the 2015 event which will be held on Saturday, August 15th. The recipient of this year’s funds will be announced soon, after all the upfront details are handled. In the meantime, the dedicated volunteers are taking care of business.
“We’ve done this for 12 years,” says Mahan. “Everyone knows what they have to do and they get it done.” The faithful few will be dividing and conquering in the months to come, some out soliciting auction donations, others planning the food arrangements, some of them lining up the cattle and the help for the day.
Cody and his parents stood before the group as they received a final check representing the last of the proceeds raised in 2015. “I know the hours it took for you to do this event,” Mary Kay Waitley said, choking back tears, adding “You gave up hours and hours so you could benefit and bless us and we are so very grateful.” Cody, who now looks like a picture of health, was all grins, shaking his head in agreement to what his mother told the group.
Following the dinner, Mary Kay had a laptop that had photos on it of the transformation Cody’s made since his heart transplant. Many in the room took time to see the pictures and appreciate how far the young man has come. The before pictures show a shadow of a kid, extremely thin and pale. Some of the core group of Feeders and Friends are individuals from that community who lost a child and were previously benefactors of the event. According to Mahan, each recipient’s family is invited to become part of the organization
Memorials have been established in honor of Lacy Miller, Fort Collins (2003), Andi Whitlock, New Raymer (2004), Shane Ellis, Briggsdale (2005), Bret Trunbull, Torrington, WY (2006), Jed Michal, Flagler (2007) Kasey Jo (Walker) Warner, New Raymer (2008), Jesse Samber, Stoneham (2009), Austin Beckner, Crook (2010), Justin Covelli, Fort Morgan (2011), Kylan Neinhauser, Peetz (2012), Jaycie Love, Loveland (2013) and Cody Waitley, Sterling (2014).
For these families who have been blessed, and then choose to get involved–even if their own child could not be saved, they find great reward in helping save that of another.
Anyone interested in donating auction items for the August event may contact Toby Nelson at 970-895-2335 or Mahan at 970-373-7100to make arrangements.