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  • Chitwood Benefit Brings Community Together

    Rachel Gartner
    Saturday, July 9, 2016

    The word community by definition means “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” The common goal, on Wednesday, June 29 at the Bradley Chitwood Benefit Dinner at the Frankfort Intermediate School cafeteria, was to provide comfort to a family who had recently experienced tragic loss and to make sure a young boy had a proper burial.

    The community of West Frankfort bonded together while breaking bread and outdid themselves. According to one of the central organizers of the benefit, Tessa Pietrantoni, between the Fazoli’s spaghetti dinner and the auctions held at the fundraiser, the effort raised approximately $8,000.

    Pietrantoni was the person who initially started this chain reaction of kindness. She was Chitwood’s 4th grade teacher, remembered him fondly and was shocked by the news that he had passed. Once the news of his death sunk in, she knew she had to do something to help the family, and in turn, help heal her heart.

    Pietrantoni said, her first text went out at 9:15am. The text went to her peers, other teachers at FIS, with a simple but central goal, help the Chitwoods and honor Bradley. Pietrantoni said, within minutes she was getting positive responses back: “What should we do? What’s the first step?” She said, the overall reaction was a resounding “yes.”

    So, she and other teachers met with several staff and members of the parent group to divi out who would do what. It was decided a Fazoli’s Spaghetti Dinner and auctions would be held.

    “While I may have sent the initial text out,” Pietrantoni explained, “I could have never done it without all these other groups. I was surrounded by people who all supported it, and we all worked together. We had secretaries taking money at the door, janitors set up the tables and cleaned the floors the day before, the cooks were serving the food, the parent group helped with the auction, everybody played a part. Mrs. Shaw at the High School offered to be a ticket selling point and a place for people to drop off auction items,” and she continued on. Pietrantoni said, everyone who went out and asked businesses for donations around town came back with something for the auction. “There wasn’t one business that turned me down, not one told me no. It was heartwarming,” said Pietrantoni. “The community support was overwhelming.”

    It was for Bradley’s parents as well. Thomas and Francise Chitwood wore t-shirts in the memory of Bradley as they mingled with the crowd during the benefit. The family sat together while they ate, but then the pair, hand in hand, went for a stroll by the auction items. Both of them looked on in awe by the table upon table of items donated for the benefit of their son’s arrangements. “Shocked. It is just such a big turnout,” Thomas said of the crowded cafeteria. “We are very, very grateful to the community for what they’ve done here,” said Francise, before the couple both became quiet again.

    But the teachers, staff and parent group do not necessarily look at it the same way. Instead, they said, they are grateful the Chitwood family allowed them to do such a thing for their son.

    FIS teacher, Jan Farkas, helped organize the benefit with Pietrantoni. Farkas, always kind and compassionate with her words, sent this in to the West Frankfort Gazette about her FIS family and her community: “One could hear a common thread running through the conversations of the teachers and parent’s group all evening of how proud we were to live in a community that is willing to come together to show our support to a local family. Most of all though, this benefit and the hours of planning, organizing, and work was a show of love for this precious child, Bradley, who will be missed so very much.”

    The benefit allows the group to write a check to Parker-Reedy Funeral Home for the remaining balance of Bradley’s arrangements. What is left from the fundraiser will go to provide Bradley with a headstone. “I know it doesn’t take the pain away from the family,” Pietrantoni explained, “but I hope that when we get the headstone purchased and put in place, that it will be a place they can go and feel good about and that he’s gotten the proper burial that he deserves.”

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