* * *
Organizers and visitors were happily surprised by Sunday's large turnout at a benefit for the victims of last month's fatal building collapse at International Nutrition Inc.
The five-hour fundraiser in the banquet room at the Ralston Arena attracted about 1,000 people and raised $32,000, according to organizer Alyssa Stout. For $5, the attendees received a spaghetti dinner with dessert as well as the chance to bid on dozens of items at a silent auction and to purchase raffle tickets for about 75 other offerings.
Stout, 21, said she began organizing the benefit about 2½ weeks ago with the aid of friends and family members, including her sister, Stacey Stout. The sisters' dad, Duanne Stout, is maintenance supervisor for International Nutrition.
“Today has been incredible,” Alyssa Stout said. “I did not ever picture this many people coming out, but it's sure nice to see.”
The money raised is earmarked for all victims of the building collapse that occurred Jan. 20 at 7706 I Plaza. Two employees, David Ball and Keith Everett, were killed. Twenty-five production workers were later laid off.
Dustin Sheldon of Bellevue, one of those who lost a job, was among about a dozen current and former employees who gathered on the dance floor to honor Ball and Everett.
Sheldon, like many other people at the benefit, wore a white T-shirt honoring the memory of Bell and Everett. The T-shirts were sold for $10 each.
“This (benefit) is great,” Sheldon said. “I wasn't really expecting to see so many people, so much support.”
Mary Brown's son Jake Wolfe, 26, also was laid off. Brown was among eight women from the Omaha Chrome Divas motorcycle club clearing tables and doing other jobs at the benefit.
“The Stout girls have done a fantastic job,” Brown said. “It's great to see Omahans being so generous and so supportive of their fellow Omahans. This is more than I could've possibly imagined.”
Ken and Jody Clayton of Ralston didn't know anyone who worked at International Nutrition, but they attended Sunday's benefit anyway. They sat near the back of the banquet room enjoying their plates of spaghetti and watching the crowd in amazement.
“I am surprised by this big turnout and happy for the (organizers),” Jody Clayton said. “We live in the neighborhood and thought we should support this.”
Leon and Sheila Bresley from the Millard neighborhood were sitting at the same large table with the Claytons and thinking exactly the same thing.
“It's sort of the Midwestern mindset,” Leon Bresley said. “Somebody gets in trouble and you help them out.”
Auction items included a football signed by the Nebraska coaching staff, a birthday bash for 10 at an Omaha Storm Chasers game, a 550-piece tool set and tickets to an Omaha Beef indoor football game. Raffle ticket holders were eligible to win a wide variety of items, including a remote-controlled model helicopter and gift cards.
Several Beef players and their cheerleaders, the Prime Dancers, volunteered at the event. They led the crowd in some group dancing to songs such as “Wobble.”
Alyssa Stout is a member of the Beef's dance squad.
“I can't thank everyone enough for all the incredible help we've gotten,” she said. “We are so happy to do everything we can to benefit all of the victims' families, and we'll continue to do everything we can.”
Donations to the fund for International Nutrition employees may be made at any local Wells Fargo Bank branch under the account “IN Benefit Fund.” Donations specifically for Ball and Everett should be made at the bank under “International Nutrition Memorial.”