SOUTHINGTON — A point of view that echoed throughout the Meriden Rod and Gun Club Saturday afternoon was that guns are not bad and the people that use them aren’t either.
More than 350 people huddled under tents outside to avoid the rain and packed the inside of the club for the annual St. Jude Shoot-a-Thon. For the past 20 years the club has hosted the event with the organization CT Shooting Sportsmen For St. Jude to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The organization has raised nearly $700,000 through the years at events such as the Shoot-a-Thon.
“After Sandy Hook firearms took a bad rap,” said Mike Roberts, a member of the CT Shooting Sportsmen For St. Jude. “This is people with firearms saving children’s lives.”
Twenty children and six adults were killed in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Roberts said these fundraisers and events bring a positive outlook toward firearms since the tragedy.
“People think ‘firearms’ is a dirty word,” Roberts said. “We’re trying to prove that they’re not.”
The goal this year, Roberts said, is to raise between $10,000 and $15,000, with the raffles, tickets, and pledges that will be collected through the next couple of weeks. People paid $10 to use the range from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and enjoyed food donated by Thurston Foods in Wallingford. Members of the New Haven Raccoon Club were also there to support the cause.
Having four children and knowing that one of their classmates died from cancer was one of the main reasons John Waitkus, the chairman of the Meriden Rod and Gun Club, gets involved each year. Helping children fight cancer is important to him, as well as bringing awareness that guns aren’t negative.
“We try to advertise that we’re using firearms to raise money for kids,” Waitkus said. “You’re proud to wear your sweatshirts.”
Many people wore blue sweatshirts with the writing in yellow: “together we aim to cure childhood cancer.”
The rainy weather didn’t deter the crowds of people shooting, eating, and socializing.
On the hill where the range was located was Brad Speir, from Middletown. He was there with friends from the military.
It was his first time at the fundraiser.
“I never thought guns could do bad, only people do,” Speir said.
Next to him was Cody Flebeau, of East Haven, who had attended the fundraiser once before and enjoyed it.
“It’s great,” Flebeau said. “It’s definitely a good way to raise money.”
Roberts started the fundraiser after becoming close with Jordan Davila, who died at nine from cancer in 1995.
The two were close and Jordan’s mother, Paula Charlton, said Roberts was the grandfather Jordan never had.
“He took Jordan under his wing,” Charlton said.
When Jordan died, Roberts wanted to raise awareness about childhood cancer and of course, raise money to help.
“We’re just a group of sportsmen dedicated to getting money for St. Jude,” Roberts said.
The club starts preparing for the event in September, Waitkus said, and often reaches out to local businesses for donations for raffle items, food, and anything else that could be of use.
“The goal here is to put on the entire event at no cost so every dime goes to St. Jude’s for the kids,” Waitkus said.
Charlton said she’s amazed by the amount of people and support the fundraiser brings.
“They’re good people doing it for a good cause,” Charlton said.
“It’s an honor and Jordan will never be forgotten.”