— By BRIAN SMITH
Chili’s on Monday is hosting a nationwide fundraiser for a girl suffering from a debilitating disease.
The fundraiser takes place at nearly 120 Chili’s locations, including the Weatherford location off Interstate 20. Go there between 10:45 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Monday and mention the girl’s name, Brooke Hester, and 10 percent of the money spent on the meal benefits Brooke’s Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer Foundation (aka “Brooke’s Blossoms and Buddies”).
Between noon and 1 p.m. at the Weatherford Chili’s, some members of the Dallas Cowboys, including kicker Chris Jones, are expected to sign autographs, according to event organizer and local Chili’s employee Tina Leatherman.
Brooke, whose sixth birthday is Monday, is suffering from high-risk, stage IV neuroblastoma cancer, which she was diagnosed with in November 2010. She has undergone nonstop treatment for the disease ever since but continues to fight.
The fundraiser has a special Weatherford connection. Brooke’s parents were married in 2001 at Zion Hill Baptist Church. Brooke’s mom,
Jessica, was a student at Weatherford College when the couple met. Chili’s has a special place in little Brooke’s heart as well, as it is her favorite place to eat.
Leatherman said she was working one night when Wanda Hibbits, a former teacher of Jessica Hester’s husband, Beau, approached her and told the story of what little Brooke was going through. Leatherman contacted her managers and through a series of e-mails, a fundraiser for Brooke was created and expanded.
“It started local and then my manager started spreading the word and before we knew it, we had Chili’s from Arizona to Florida taking part,” Leatherman said. “It’s really a wonderful gesture.”
Other Chili’s restaurants taking part locally include Mineral Wells, Cleburne and Granbury.
Jessica Hester said through an e-mail that the family was visiting a local Chili’s in the Corpus Christi area where they live and the fundraiser blossomed from there.
“While we were there visiting with each other, watching Brooke color a pepper, and waiting, we saw a poster on the wall that described the Give Back events Chili’s does and we asked to meet the manager, Tyler, who came to our table,” Jessica Hester wrote. “He immediately said if the date was available for the week of Brooke’s upcoming sixth birthday that he could not only reserve it for her foundation, but could collaborate and find out if the other Chili’s in and around Corpus Christi could also participate. Brooke was elated!!! Of course she immediately started talking about all across Texas and how neat that would be as a way to not only raise money for our very small and new (but growing) foundation, but also raise awareness in the fight against pediatric cancer.”
Jessica and Brooke visited another Chili’s in Kingsville to see if they would be willing to help and the word continued to spread quickly through the wonders of Facebook.
Thanks to volunteers (starting with Brooke herself in her own home hospital sharing flower headbands), Brooke’s Blossoms and Buddies has now given away more than 8,500 blossoms, hats, headbands and silly water-squirting flowers to girls and boys in 25 different countries experiencing hair loss from cancer treatment.
The mission not only helps cancer patients and their siblings, but also underfunded pediatric cancer research, specifically studies evaluating gentler, more tolerable treatments like those Brooke has undergone.
The personalized medicine study Brooke benefits from and helped fund is now open to a variety of pediatric cancers through the work of a national collaborative of hospitals and researchers dedicated to finding cures for children fighting cancer just like Brooke.
For more information on Brooke and her foundation, visit www.BrookesBlossoms.org or her Facebook page facebook.com/BrookesBlossoms. A medical blog has also been started at www.caringbridge.org/visit/BrookeHester.