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Touch-A-Truck fundraiser started with cold calls

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Photo courtesy of Morgantown Touch-A-Truck Photo courtesy of Morgantown Touch-A-Truck
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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD

For The State Journal

For four years, three Morgantown women have led a convoy of trucks to West Virginia University Coliseum to fight cancer.

Leah Darr, her aunt, Sheila Powell and Powell's daughter, Katie Martin are founders of the Morgantown Touch-A-Truck event.

Each year they invite more than 40 groups, businesses and individuals to park a work truck, emergency or recreational vehicle or other equipment at the Coliseum for children to see, touch, climb in and learn about. 

Approximately 1,300 people have attended the event each of the past two years, and the number doesn't include volunteers. 

Proceeds may lead to a cure for cancer by funding an endowment Darr is working to establish in her grandfather's name. 

"We wanted to make a lasting contribution in his name," Darr said. "He wasn't perfect but in the last few years of his life he was somebody who set an example for all of us."

Elroy C. Henry died July 10, 2006 of prostate cancer. A regular churchgoer, Henry became a church leader late in life. When the legal paperwork is completed, money raised by Morgantown Touch-A-Truck will fully fund the endowment when the total reaches $25,000. 

The endowment will support the infrastructure of programs at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center that support cancer research and clinical trials such as through the new statewide West Virginia Cancer Clinical Trials Network. Examples of possible ways the money could be used include paying expenses for conferences or making grants to researchers.

In four years, the event has raised $27,000. In the beginning, proceeds went to other cancer-related causes. About half of the $25,000 commitment to fund the endowment has been raised.
The organizers predict they'll have it by 2016.

"Anyone who receives support will get a notification of where that support came from and each year we'll get an update on how this money has helped," Darr said. "And we can continue to build it. When I'm gone (my daughter) Makenna can look back and see all of these things that have been done in Granddad's name."

Community participation is what makes the event successful.

"Really it's the willingness of the community to kind of get behind this goal," Darr said. "I've never seen anything like it, the excitement from first responders and different people in the university who've been so willing to help." 

Darr said she thinks the larger cause is what motivates people. Almost everyone knows someone who has had cancer.

But making the event happen starts each year with a lot of asking.

"Really it was cold-calling at first and scouring websites to find who is the best person to approach," Darr said. 

And there has been some rejection. 

"And at the same time, we've had people calling us the past couple of years wanting to participate."

And it takes several pieces to put the whole event together.

Regular exhibitors include the Army National Guard and area first responders, who often bring more than one truck. The owner of Tanner's Alley Leather Shop in Morgantown brings antique military vehicles every year; a crane from City Crane & Equipment is one of the biggest attractions; Coca-Cola distributes  free drinks to kids from its truck; United Dairy serves ice cream from a refrigerated truck; FedEx delivers a truck and hundreds of tote bags; Consol Energy sends a mine rescue team to show their equipment. 

"One of my favorites is Fun Aviation," Darr said. "They cannot set up their hot air balloon. They can't tether because of the time of day, it's too windy. 

"But they do bring their basket and they show how the flame works and let kids climb in and out."

Organizers and exhibitors alike are concerned about safety. Powell's family donates the money to take out the required insurance policy for the day.

Every year is a little nerve-wracking for the organizers until exhibitors pull into the lot. 

"They're not signing a contract," Darr said. "We wonder ‘are they going to show up?' There's always that chance of rain. We don't talk about that." 

Organizers have seldom been let down. First responders, including the HealthNet medical helicopter, are the most likely to send their regrets if they get called to an emergency. 

Unlike some similar events across the country, Morgantown Touch-A-Truck does not charge exhibitors a fee to park. The planners are working to get food trucks and concessions vendors to set up this year, and they may charge a fee to secure the commitment.

The event has wide appeal. It's not just for boys. Darr and Martin have daughters. And it is not just child's play.

"One year two men showed up at the table to pay to get in and we were looking for kids," Darr said. "They didn't bring any and laughed and said they love trucks, too. It was hilarious."

For information or to participate, contact the organizers at Morgantowntouchatruck@gmail.com or 304-290-8441.