Carolers pass Santa hat to help Columbia family

Friday, December 21, 2012 | 1:33 p.m. CST; updated 6:50 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 22, 2012
Carolers gathered Thursday evening to raise money for a Columbia family who are struggling to pay medical and other bills.

 COLUMBIA — Carolers stepped out of the gusty wind and ice-glazed yard and into the relative warmth of the Bappe family garage Thursday evening, waiting to do their bit to help the family.

When the garage became too full for the main event, the gathering moved onto the concrete driveway to sing, sing, sing. Starting with a hearty "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the almost 60 carolers sang for 20 minutes.

At the end, they passed a Santa hat, raising $1,300 in cash and $300 in Gerbes gift cards for the Bappe family.

"Caroling for a Cause" was organized by Rachel Hrdina, who has come to know the family through her work as a nurse at Boone Hospital Center. Parents Nikki and Andrew Bappe have serious health problems — Nikki with a life-threatening lung condition called pulmonary pneumonitis and Andrew with stage-four throat cancer.

Their 15-year-old daughter, Jodie, created a fundraising campaign to raise awareness about her family’s situation. A story last week in Vox magazine profiled her efforts.

"We have been struggling financially between hospital bills and regular bills (mortgage, car, etc.)," Jodie wrote on the campaign Web page. "My mom has quit work to stay home and get better, if possible. And as expected, my dad has not been able to work for a few months now, and is going to need some more time off while he recovers. That means we have no income."

Hrdina met Nikki during her treatment at Boone. Nikki was being treated there when the family found about Andrew's diagnosis last summer.

When Hrdina learned about Jodie's fundraising campaign, the nurse felt compelled to act.

"That was the trigger," she said. "I felt we needed to do something because what if it was me? What if it was my family? I would hope someone would help us."

On her fundraising page, Jodie wrote that from a young age, she has balanced housework, schoolwork and caring for her mother, whose condition is chronic. Now that her father Andrew is sick, too, Jodie finds herself as the family’s primary caregiver. Jodie has two older brothers, one still in high school and the other grown and out of the house.

"I have to take care of both my parents, and no one is taking care of me. But that’s alright. I’m tough too, just like my mom and dad," Jodie wrote.

Word spread quickly over social media sites. Within a week, Jodie's goal of $3,500 was met; within the month, $8,081 was raised for the Bappe family, Jodie said.

On Thursday evening, Andrew's eyes welled as he expressed his appreciation. "It's fabulous. I can't believe, I just can't believe it," he said. "We're so blessed that so many people have so much to give in this economy."

"Now we've made friends with neighbors we didn't know, neighbors we had lost touch with," he said. "In ways, it's been a blessing."

Andrew said he didn't know about his daughter's fundraising plans before she posted them online but that he was not surprised.

"Well, she doesn't shock me. She’s always been a great writer. I’m so proud of her; she’s has always done such a good job," he said.

Hrdina and her 17-year-old daughter, Alex Hutchinson, originally wanted to plan a formal fundraising event for the Bappes but worried that people would not have time to attend during the busy holiday season. 

The pair decided to invite friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates and neighbors to the Bappes' front lawn through Facebook, to sing carols and donate money. Word spread almost exclusively through social media.

"People I’ve never seen before are here tonight and not because I contacted them directly but through the power of Facebook," Hrdina said.

Most attendees knew the parents were sick before attending the caroling event, but several said they didn’t know how serious the situation was until reading Hrdina’s invitation on Facebook.

"I knew that Nikki had some health issues, but I had not realized how it had really been. Then to hear about Drew, and how that happened at the same time, you kind of think, God, what was it that I was complaining about today?" neighbor Elizabeth Wilson said.

As the carolers sang standards such as "Silent Night," "Joy to the World" and "O Holy Night," Nikki, unable to go outside, leaned through an open, second-story window and listened.

"It’s been eight or nine years since I’ve been to church, but you all singing these songs brought me the best gift anyone could ever bring," Nikki told the carolers.

"They’re a great family with really crummy cards dealt to them," Hrdina said as the gathering began to break up. "I hope people continue to support them."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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