Theft mars benefit for Linwood woman

Proceeds stolen during fundraiser in Wyoming for Heidi Willcocks

 

The barn dance fundraiser held July 28 for Heidi and Jeff Willcocks was a smashing success in terms of turnout, but proceeds of the benefit went missing. (Photos submitted)

The barn dance fundraiser held July 28 for Heidi and Jeff Willcocks was a smashing success in terms of turnout, but proceeds of the benefit went missing. (Photos submitted)

Clint Riese
News Editor

A bold, callous act perpetrated July 28 ruined what promised to be an evening of hope and healing for Heidi Willcocks.

That night marked a benefit put on by friends to help the Linwood resident and her husband, Jeff, stay afloat financially as she continues a lifelong battle with chronic respiratory conditions.

The couple returned home thrilled from the event at Wyoming’s Pinehaven Farm, where several hundred guests had turned out for the barn dance fundraiser. Their joy turned to confusion, and eventually to shock and despair, as they realized that proceeds from donations and admissions had been stolen.

“We didn’t even make half of our goal. It’s just devastating,” Heidi Willcocks said this week.

Sad realization

At the farm, organizers had pooled cash and checks, from the admission fee, and donations, dropped into a pair of cowboy boots at the same table, into a box full of cards. The box was placed in a gift shop that organizers were using as a headquarters.

Jeff and Heidi Willcocks at the benefit.

Jeff and Heidi Willcocks at the benefit.

The Willcockses opened the box at home that night while sorting donations and were shocked to find cash totaling only $50. A smaller boot at a bake sale table had netted $300.

“I looked at the bills and thought that was strange,” Heidi Willcocks said. “There had to be more than that in the cowboy boots.”

Their suspicions were confirmed the next day. Jeff Willcocks’ employer, North Memorial Health Care, had agreed to match benefit donations made by its employers. When he turned in copies of only three checks, his supervisor raised a red flag: There should have been many more checks. In fact, all of North Memorial’s donors were listed in an envelope that had been dropped into one of the boots. Even that list had disappeared.

“One thing that blows our minds is what the heck (the thief or thieves) are going to do with checks,” Heidi Willcocks said.

The amount of money taken is a mystery. Tickets for the dinner and dance cost $10 apiece, while some guests came for one or the other and paid $5. Approximately 300 people were there at the busiest point, Heidi Willcocks said.

She remembers noticing the gift shop lights turned out at one point and finding that odd. Organizers locked the front door and kept an eye on the side door. Also, Heidi Willcocks purposely made the card box large so that no one could run off with it unnoticed.

“It just takes a thief a moment to make a decision and act upon it,” she said.

Heidi Willcocks holds little hope for recovering the donations but followed up on the report Pinehaven filed with Wyoming police. She wonders if the incident is related to the three recent wedding gift thefts around the metro. If so, Heidi Willcocks said those responsible have hit bottom.

“At a benefit, people?” she said. “How low can you go?”

To top it off, Heidi Willcocks picked up an illness she believes stems from the exposure at the benefit. Besides asthma and other chronic conditions that cause her lungs to work at a reduced capacity, she suffers from allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, a rare allergy to molds. When ill, the impact of these conditions heightens.

“I’ve been dealing with my health my whole life, and it’s just one more blow,” Heidi Willcocks said. “This just takes the last little bit of energy out of you.”

The need remains

The theft marred the event, but the Willcockses remain floored by the community’s support that night. Guests came from hours away and included people the beneficiaries had never met.

“We are so incredibly thankful to everyone that came and supported us,” Heidi Willcocks said. “That’s huge for us. The outpouring of love and support was incredible.”

Not all proceeds were taken. Those from the bake sale and silent auction were not placed in the card box. Also, some donors gave directly to the cause through an account at First State Bank of Wyoming or the event website, www.barndancebenefit.com.

Those channels will remain open for donations. If the incident served any purpose, it made the Willcockses all the more grateful for those rushing to their aid.

The need remains as the couple tries to keep up with medical and living expenses. Testing scheduled for next month may determine whether Heidi Willcocks is a candidate for a lung transplant.

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