Sunday, July 17, 2011

Birmingham turns out for Berry family benefit

Donna Askenazi, center, organized the bake sale today at the Levite Jewish Community Center.

Lauren, Alexis and Beth Greenwald bring goods from Atlanta

As Donna Askenazi was being asked by the local Fox affiliate about her friends, Robin and Joshua Berry, the emotions began to come forth this morning.

Behind Askenazi, a bake sale she organized was in full swing at Birmingham's Levite Jewish Community Center, raising money for the Berrys' three children. On July 2, the family from Houston, Tex., was on the way back from a vacation in Colorado when an oncoming car swerved into their lane and hit them head-on. The parents were killed, and their three children were injured in the wreck -- Peter, 9; Aaron, 8; and Willa, 6. The older boys suffered spinal cord injuries and are paralyzed from the waist down. The daughter has a broken arm and ankle.

Though few in Birmingham's Jewish community knew the Berrys, the quickly-organized event drew a slew of bakers and customers, raising $3,600 -- double chai.

Askenazi grew up with Robin Berry in Houston, attending the same congregation and traveling to Israel together. Askenazi's husband was a fraternity pledge with Joshua Berry at the University of Texas. "She went to my wedding, I went to her wedding," Askenazi said. Robin Berry was a Tulane graduate.

After the wreck, Askenazi spent five days in Houston, visiting the family during shiva. She found out about two bake sales that were organized in Houston to benefit the children, and upon returning to Birmingham went straight to Garth Potts, LJCC executive director, and said "I have to have a bake sale."

She recruited friend Jamie Stern to help coordinate the sale. By 9 a.m. several long tables were laden with goods from individuals and businesses; there were no pricetags, just goods in exchange for donations.

Maddie Stern, 10, emptied her tzedakah box for the effort. Many just stopped by to make donations -- and it wasn't just a Birmingham effort.

An hour after the sale began, Beth Greenwald, Alexis and Lauren arrived with a large shipment of baked goods from Atlanta. Greenwald said when she heard Askenazi was doing this for their friend, "we said we're going to coordinate Atlanta and help." The goods they brought were labeled "Baked for the Berrys" and had the website for the fund that has been set up for the children.

After the event, Askenazi said "I am so touched by the generosity of the Birmingham community. It was very overwhelming and I am very humbled by this experience."

According to the Jewish Herald-Voice in Houston, about $40,000 has already been raised in grass-roots efforts in Houston, from bake sales, dog washes and an upcoming "Bowl for the Berrys." Fundraisers are being organized in Chicago, where the boys will undergo rehabilitation. A lemonade stand in Baltimore raised $1000 today.