Whether it be a trip to Disney World, or a shopping spree fit for a king, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has been making dreams come true for children in Franklin County with critical health conditions, thanks to eight years of help from the annual Truck Convoy and Show.
Saturday’s convoy grew to 273 vehicles this year, up from last year’s 119. It started at the Cumberland Valley Antique Show Grounds in Chambersburg, and mostly included vehicles from Pennsylvania and nearby states, volunteers said.
Vehicles hit the road around 11 a.m. Saturday morning for a 32-mile journey around the county that took them up U.S. Route 30, Route 997, U.S. Route 11 and back to U.S. Route 30.
Vehicles included commercial trucks, pickup trucks, semi trucks, emergency vehicles, school buses and motorcycles, and the event brought in roughly $30,000, which is money invested in the wishes of kids in the county. In the last seven years, the event has raised more than $110,000 and helped grant more than 30 wishes, volunteers said. Nine wishes have been granted in Franklin County so far this year.
“This feels good. This is what I call ‘food for your soul.’ You don't realize it's 105 degrees outside. The kids are smiling, and they are happy, and the community comes together,” said Staci Hull, president of the truck convoy, who has been a wish granter for 12 years, and running the event since its inception.
She said wish granting is always about the child.
“A little girl's wish was to go to Hawaii, once she was medically able. And, mom and dad were like, ‘Woah, we don't want to fly that far.’ And I was like, ‘Too bad, she wants to do Hawaii, so that's what it is.’”
Some individuals and organizations were recognized as heroes with medals, as decided by board members, at the annual convoy.
One of these individuals was Cassidy Whitlock, 10, of Blue Ridge Summit, who has been the president of the Junior Volunteers since the end of last year, and is the youngest board member of the convoy, raising nearly $2,000 on her own.
“It’s a nice thing, and it’s neat to see all the kids, and people come out,” she said. “And, it’s neat to see all the trucks.”
She attended her first convoy when she was 4 years old. Whitlock has neutropenia, a blood condition resulting in an immune deficiency, which doesn’t qualify her as a Wish Kid, but does require her to visit Penn State Hershey Medical Center every six months for testing.
“Kids are more critically ill than her, but she can relate to them,” her mother, Christina, said. “She knows what it is like to have to go to multiple doctor’s appointments. She wants them to have that break away, and be able to make memories with their family.”
Jalil Bennani, a 10th grader at Chambersburg Area Senior High School, was another one of the Junior Volunteers named a hero.
He got involved with Make-A-Wish a few years ago with his grandmother, Sherry Ramer, and they started as volunteers.
“I've always loved helping kids, and when my grandfather passed away from cancer, it opened our eyes, and we wanted to reach out and do what we can to help kids that suffer from the same issues,” he said.
The pair went to every meeting, and all event preparation for anything associated with Make-A-Wish. Sherry became a wish granter, and Jalil became a sponsor and board member.
“I talked to Staci, and told her I wanted to start a web page and raise money. My goal was $500, and I ended up raising $615,” he said.
Mike Gordon, transportation manager for Valicor waste management, was also named a hero. Valicor donated $1,000, and the company put many trucks on the road, for the annual convoy.
“It's an inspiration to see everything here stay right here in Franklin County,” he said. “ I hope to continue to see it grow, and, hopefully, Valicor can still be a part of it as it grows.”
Vehicles paid a registration fee to enter. There was also a registration fee for a car show. Various merchandise was sold to benefit the cause. Occasionally, a young child walked up to the information booth to contribute a donation.
A junior volunteer yard sale and raffle also benefited the cause. Bingo and a peanut (candy) scramble also dotted the lineup during the morning and afternoon.
Dustin Bingaman dressed as Batman, and Beth Goetz dressed as Captain America. The pair greeted kids, gave them high-fives and hugs, and took pictures with them for the annual event.
Beth is one of the volunteers who helps sort out the logistics for the wishes, including the kids who choose to go to Disney World. She described the kids just continually talking about the trip, whether it was the girls who got to hang out with their favorite princess, or the boys who ventured to Animal Kingdom.
“It's a stress-free time, and the kids are getting whatever they want,” Beth said. “That's the best part.”
When it came time to hit the road, drivers lined up and honked their horns, and many volunteers, families and members of the community cheered on those leaving on the journey. Board member Gene Kline led the fleet out, and was the first to return. When he got back, he returned to the road to thank those who participated.
Along the trek, thousands of people greeted the convoy.
Many vehicles repped the Make-A-Wish Foundation on the front of their trucks. Trucks also took many of the Wish families along for the ride.
Chevy Hockenberry, 9, of Fayetteville, was one of the kids to ride along in one of the trucks. He has a genetic disorder called Hurler Syndrome (metabolic disorder) that required him to spend close to a year in the hospital. He later received an umbilical cord blood transplant that saved his life.
When he was 3 years old, he was granted his wish to go to Orlando Theme Parks, and had the chance to stay at “Give Kids The World Village” with his parents and siblings. He met a bunch of Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Pluto; visited all of the parks; and was treated like royalty. He could also have pizza and ice cream whenever he wanted, even if it was 11 at night.
“It was nice for him to see his whole family be together in something that we would consider a normal, everyday activity. He definitely enjoyed the rides and the characters. He, to this day, talks about the characters, and how he got to spend time with them,” said his aunt, Lisa Westberry. Westberry said she helps with this convoy and a similar convoy in Gettysburg, as well as with Make-A-Wish Christmas Party in Chambersburg.
During the trek, trucks stopped at Farner’s Racing Collectables in Fayetteville, who hosted its own Make-A-Wish benefit event. Their website announced more than $4,100 was raised in four hours.
“This was the best one ever that we’ve been a part of. It’s a great cause, and it’s nice that the money stays here in Franklin County,” said Alan Kohler, who rode with his wife, Sue, in a military-themed truck. “The police and Blue Knights and everyone just did a terrific job controlling the traffic. Big thanks to those people.” The Kohlers are Army Veterans.
Saturday also included time at the grounds for fun and fellowship, whether it be enjoying a chicken teriyaki stick, or hanging out with Boy Scout Troop 143 of Mercersburg who have participated nearly every year.
Members of the Authentic Community Theatre cast in Hagerstown, Maryland, also performed numbers from their upcoming production of “Les Misérables.”
There was a Bounce House set up, and other games for kids to enjoy. Vendors also paid a fee to set up their stands on the grounds.
“It's really about the volunteers; there are so many unspoken names, and people that I couldn't even start to list. It's the community that comes together to make this happen. This is a pretty awesome community that we live in,” Hull said.
Ten heroes were recognized at the 8th annual Truck Convoy and Show.
Alan Kohler, Truck Enterprises
Martin’s Potato Rolls,
Keah Young (in memory of her husband, Marvin)
Jason Summers, and Boy Scout Troop 143 of Mercersburg
Mike Gordon of Valicor