More than 400 residents came out in droves to the Cranford Elks Club yesterday to support three-year-old Tommy Bevan, diagnosed last year with neurofibromatosis type 1, or NF1, with event organizers estimating that they raised about $30,000.
"It's a humbling experience," his father Jim Bevan said. "We're so blessed to have such great friends and family."
The event was organized by Kim Tomassi, Patty Zarzecki and Barbara Wojtowicz, high school friends of Jim and Kim Bevan. All graduated from Cranford High School in 1985.
To help make the benefit a success, local Cranford businesses and organizations also pooled their resources. The Elks Club, under Exalted Ruler Bobby Wheeler, donated use of the hall, the beer and cash from its operating account.
Mr. J's Deli and the Cranford Hotel provided catered food free-of-charge. PBA local 250, which serves the Union County Prosecutor's Office, donated $1,000.
Almost 100 prizes for the tricky tray held at the event were also donations from friends, family and well-wishers. Prizes included golf clubs, an iPad, a bicycle and even a trip for two to Mexico. Local band Uncle Yellow provided entertainment.
"It's inspiring to see a community come together," said Jill Hayeck, a third-grade teacher at Orange Avenue who helped set the hall up for the benefit. "I'm happy to help support a great family."
NF1 is a lifelong genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow throughout the body. Depending on where the tumors grow, NF1 can come with a host of problems such as blindness and paralysis. Tommy has three known tumors: one on the brain and two on the spine. The Bevans are 12 weeks into chemotherapy, making weekly trips to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and already the brain tumor has shrunk.
"He's their healthiest patient," Kim said. "He should be down and out, but he's not. It's truly a miracle."
Relief and gratitude emanated from Jim and Kim as they basked in the support of their friends. Insurance only covers so much, said Jim, and the medical bills are an expense the Bevans will have to be cognizant of for the rest of Tommy's life. Jim said the diagnosis process was drawn-out; it took months of MRIs to determine something was wrong.
"I prayed a lot, I cried a lot, and we do what we have to do," Kim said.
Jim said he was relieved to finally be able to name his son's illness, but the diagnosis brought a different set of problems.
"You go from not being able to do anything to not knowing what's going to happen," he said. "(Tommy) could have a normal, healthy life, or he could go blind or have a stroke or become paralyzed. It changes the way you look at things."
For his part, Tommy was content to play with his toy motorcycle and Buzz Lightyear, and run around with his five-year-old sister Grace during the benefit. He hammed it up for the camera and charmed his parents' friends. He does not let NF1 stop him from being a kid.
And his parents are grateful for the outpouring of support.
"It's been a life-changing experience, for the better," said Jim of the fundraiser. "Look at all these people that came together for my son."
Kim agreed. "It's overwhelming."
Even though the party is over, readers can still donate; go to the benefit's Web site and click on the "donate" button to make a Paypal donation.