The generosity of Gatlinburg merchants in providing an auction package for the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge Gala resulted, in return, in generosity from the Children’s Museum and Gala attendees, who opened their wallets to support Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after the devastating Chimney Tops fire.
Guests at the Gala Evening at the Children’s Museum on December 2 contributed $6,260 for the fire relief effort as Clinton auctioneer Bear Stephenson extended the auction of a Gatlinburg activities package to accept contributions for organizations supporting the community and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after the wildfire that spread from the park into Gatlinburg earlier that week.
Martha Hart first raised the idea of donating to fire relief efforts by donating the proceeds from the Gatlinburg activities package back to the community. Hart, whose family owns Karen’s Jewelers, was helping manage the silent auction with her family as a volunteer at the Gala and suggested moving the Gatlinburg activities package from the silent to the live auction.
“Gatlinburg and Sevier County merchants are very generous with items they donate from that area,” Hart said. “We knew many people that we know were impacted by the fire, and I thought about what we could do.” The Park Vista Hotel, Ober Gatlinburg, Sweet Fanny Adams Comedy Club, Kennedy Concepts Restaurants, and Gatlinburg Golf and Games all contributed to the auction package.
“I thought it would be nice if we could give back to that area somehow with the one auction item, so instead of keeping it in the silent auction, we moved it to the live auction,” Hart said. “And then Bear did his magic on it.”
It happened that the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge was celebrating the 100th birthday of the National Park Service at its annual Gala Evening, which was a benefit for the museum. The theme was “Tribute to the National Parks—A Centennial Celebration,” and the Gala was an official National Park Centennial event. The Museum has recently welcomed the Manhattan Project National Historical Park to Oak Ridge, and some of its history exhibits help explain Oak Ridge’s role in the Manhattan Project.
Stephenson, of Stephenson Realty and Auction, found a receptive audience when he auctioned the Gatlinburg package and then asked if guests would contribute more directly to fire relief efforts. Gala guests continued to offer support, as contributions ranging from $100 to $1,000 brought the total to $6,260.
The Children’s Museum executive committee decided to split the funds evenly between Friends of the Smokies, which has an emergency fire relief fund to meet the greatest needs of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Pi Beta Phi PTA Student/Staff Fund, providing fire relief to students and staff impacted by the disaster.
The committee wanted to help children impacted by the fire with the donation to Pi Beta Phi Elementary School, where news reports said 95 children were left homeless and five staff members lost homes in the fire. And the museum also wanted to support the national park, noting that the Friends of the Smokies would apply all the funds raised to park recovery.
“The firestorm scorched nearly 20,000 acres and destroyed over 2,400 structures, including homes and businesses,” Children’s Museum Executive Director Beth Shea said in thanking donors. “Your generosity to help our neighbors and our beloved Great Smoky Mountains National Park is greatly appreciated.”
The Gala also was successful in raising funds to benefit the nonprofit Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge. The Museum, at 461 West Outer Drive, fills a renovated elementary school with exhibits, activities and festivals offering fun and learning throughout the year. Inside the museum, children may explore how children lived in historic Appalachia, wander through a rain forest, delight in a child-sized playhouse, create a puppet play, and experience water play, among other activities. Outside, they may visit a solar home, grow fruits and vegetables as they learn about farm-to-table food in the Environmental Center and Garden, and enjoy a garden railroad.
For more information, see the Children’s Museum web site at www.childrensmuseumofoakridge.org.
This press was submitted by Kay Brookshire.