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David Ong, an employee at the Paola McDonald’s, holds up a Pro Football Hall of Fame helmet signed by former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. Ong said a prayer for the success of the Miami County Salvation Army Benefit Auction. When he said, “Amen,” Mrs. Dawson called to send the helmet as a donation from the family.

The Miami County Salvation Army Benefit Auction has always been a labor of love. It was an opportunity to give back and do something.

Watching the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I could not believe what I was seeing on my television set. I was saddened to hear of the looting and disappointed in the delay in resources getting to those in need.

My brother Terry, his wife Alice and their family were living in Slidell, La., at the time. They were forced to move to St. Louis to be closer to family where we grew up.

The outpouring of love and support for them restored my faith in humanity. Thinking about what everyone did for my family still brings tears to my eyes.

Schools held clothing drives. My sister Cindy’s law office adopted them for Christmas. Rockhurst University, where my brother John is a professor, took up a collection for them.

Strangers reached out to them, not only with support, but love. The Morris family knew they were not alone.

Two years later, when I saw the flooding in Osawatomie, I wanted to make a difference and started an auction that our community has rallied around.

The Osawatomie Flood Benefit Auction was born. We raised more than $2,300 for the Miami County Salvation Army to assist victims of the flood. It went over well, and there is an ongoing need to donations, so we decided to make it an annual event benefiting the Miami County Salvation Army.

For 12 years the benefit auction teamed up with the Osawatomie Rotary Club and its annual pancake feed. With the end of the pancake feed, the auction is moving to Timbercreek Bar and Grill in Louisburg. Our 13th annual Miami County Salvation Army Benefit Auction will be held Sunday, Nov. 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Timbercreek, located at 14 E. Amity St.

More than 1,200 items have been auctioned off for the charity the last 12 years. It is a year-round quest that involves writing autograph letters to celebrities, asking for donations and looking for items at estate sales, garage sales, flea markets and church thrift stores.

Two weeks out, panic always hits me as well. Do we have enough items? What is the weather going to be? Are we going to reach our goal?

I was talking about the Miami County Salvation Army Benefit Auction during one of my afternoon visits to McDonald’s in Paola. I was worried about having enough items for the auction. Employee David Ong was on break and asked if he could say a prayer for the success of the auction.

He said the most beautiful prayer, putting the charity auction in the Lord’s hands. I was teary-eyed. The auction has a special place in my heart.

When he was praying, we both said “Amen.”

Right after that, my cell phone rang. It was Mrs. Len Dawson, asking if they still had time to send me an item. The Dawsons sent an autographed replica Pro Football Hall of Fame helmet for the Miami County Salvation Army.

I have faith in the Lord and believe in the power of prayer, but I have never had a prayer answered so fast. I knew the Lord was smiling down on the auction.

Ong is one of the most positive people you will ever meet. He is quite the comedian, entertaining customers with his quick-witted jokes. There is never a dull moment around David.

Many people don’t know it, but David is an author. He wrote a book about an after-life experience in which he met Jesus after nearly dying in a car accident in April 1983. The book was a dream of his and he realized that dream with the publishing of “My Life After Death” which came out in March 2007.

We have had so many great people support our auction. Local artist Ronnie Smith has shared his talents with us. Tommy Brewer, of Tommy Brewer’s Automotive in Osawatomie, lost everything in the Osawatomie flood in 2007, except the most important thing of all — his family. He is there every year, and it is always an honor to visit with him.

Timbercreek Bar and Grill in Louisburg really stepped up for us this year, giving us a home for the auction.

I am always amazed at the celebrities who support our cause. The first year we got autographed pictures from Karolyn Grimes, ZuZu from “It’s A Wonderful Life,” James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), NASCAR legend Richard Petty and singer Elton John.

In previous years, we have received autographed items from President Jimmy Carter, Dustin Hoffman, Tim Allen, John Wooden, Charlie Daniels, Shaquille O’Neal, Len Dawson and President George W. Bush.

The community has also been very generous in their support for the Miami County Salvation Army Benefit Auction. We have received donations over the years from the Paola McDonald’s, the Paola Inn, Gerken Rent-All, the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, Arbonne, courtesy of Valerie Edwards, Grandstand Burgers in Paola and Mike Peace with Gutter Geeks.

The 2019 Miami County Salvation Army Benefit Auction is Sunday, Nov. 24, at Timbercreek Bar and Grill in Louisburg from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This year’s auction will feature the Len Dawson autographed Pro Football Hall of Fame helmet, a picture autographed by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a script from Last Man Standing signed by Tim Allen, a picture signed by Royals Hall-of-Famer George Brett, an autographed picture of Larry Bird, game-used cleats singed by Royals ace Kevin Appier, a basket of mittens, scarves and hats, a basket of collectible Boyds Bears, a collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia and much more.

The first year we did the auction raised more than $2,300 and the money was spent in two weeks, said Rob Roberts of the Salvation Army. I was moved to hear the money helped turn electricity on for people, provided gift cards for food, helped pay for lodging and other necessities. It let me know just how many people the auction touches.

This is a great opportunity to find a one-of-a-kind item for that special someone for Christmas or buy something as an early present for you, and make a difference for a great cause at the same time.

We could not do this without all of you. God Bless us everyone.

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