By Carson Gerber
Becky Varnell had slept only six hours in three days. But by Sunday evening, her sleep deprivation had paid off.
How much did it pay? Exactly $216,448.05.
That’s how much the 40th-annual WWKI We Care telethon brought in after 48 hours of intense bidding on jewelry, furniture, antiques, artwork, cars, homemade guitars and just about any other conceivable kind of item.
As the president of the We Care organization, Varnell helped organize and oversee the nearly 800 volunteers who manned the phones, stocked the shelves and kept the fundraising humming smoothly after it kicked off at 6 p.m. Friday.
And after the auction ended Sunday, Varnell said she was ready to climb into bed and catch up on some shut-eye.
“Working on six hours of sleep makes you kind of emotional,” she said with a laugh. “You can get sad and you can get angry, but you step away, take a deep breath, take a quite moment, ask God to help you and go back into it.”
Varnell reported this year’s auction brought in over $11,000 more than last year’s. The auction itself garnered $169,444, and an additional $47,003 came from 11 businesses who held their own fundraisers throughout the year for the We Care telethon.
“It’s really amazing, considering the economy,” she said. “It’s kind of surprising, and every year we’re overwhelmed if we can go over or match last year’s amount. It’s just like, ‘Thank you, Kokomo.’”
All the money will go to the Kokomo Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, Bona Vista Inc., Mental Health America of Howard County, the Kokomo Tribune-sponsored Goodfellows and the Hope Fund. Checks will be presented to the agencies Dec. 19.
The item catching one of the biggest bids was the now-famous doll named Hope, which annually gets donated back to the telethon to be sold again. For the fourth year in a row, Scot and Virginia DeLon nabbed what’s become the We Care mascot.
Last year they won with a bid of $3,000. This year they dropped $6,000 on the doll.
Hope has been the final item auctioned since 1986, after the doll fell out of a bag while volunteers were sorting through donated items.
“In the silence of that moment, everyone knew the doll would touch the hearts of the community,” a We Care pamphlet says.
Virginia said they plan to place Hope on the mantle, and said they always explain to family and friends who come over what the doll means to Kokomo.
“When we look at her, we think to ourselves how blessed we are,” she said.
The We Care sign fetched a $2,500 winning bid. The sign was given to the second-highest bidder of $2,200, but both donation were given anyway in a show of generosity.
Although the auction officially ended Sunday, people will have a chance to snag items that weren’t purchased this weekend at the clean-up auction this Sunday inside the former Phar-Mor store at the Kokomo Town Center Mall.
“After that we cry, we leave and we’re done,” Varnell said. “I’m glad when it’s over, but always joyous that the community has such a big heart. That’s the bottom line — this community loves its people and steps up every year.”
Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached by phone at 765-854-6739, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.