Whenever disaster strikes in Lacombe, the community quickly pulls together to support those in need. Leah Cobetto’s case is no exception.
While walking through downtown Lacombe on her way home the night of Sept. 23rd, Cobetto was struck by an allegedly drunk driver.
She was subsequently airlifted by STARS Air Ambulance to Edmonton for treatment. Because of injuries sustained from the collision, Cobetto’s right leg was amputated below the knee.
Shortly after the incident, a facebook group was set up to support Cobetto and her family. It didn’t take long for the group to see widespread support throughout Central Alberta.
“The group went from 130 people to over 700 in three days,” said Darlene Boyko. “It just got out of control.”
Boyko has been one of the central organizers to the fundraising movements supporting Cobetto. Interestingly, Boyko has never met Cobetto, but learned of what had happened through her friend Emily Rennie, who is neighbours with Cobetto’s parents.
“I couldn’t imagine, you’re just walking home from work and this happens to you,” said Boyko. “I just couldn’t imagine what she was going through.”
Shocked by the unfairness of the incident, Boyko and Rennie decided to do something about it.
“It struck a cord with me,” said Boyko. She added that anyone who is irresponsible while driving, impaired or otherwise, is not stopping to think of how their decisions could impact someone else’s life.
“(Leah is) such a sweet girl,” said Rennie. “She is always doing nice things for people. It’s just sad.”
After hearing about what had happened, Boyko and Rennie, along with Michelle Houston, another friend of Rennie’s, brainstormed some ideas of how they could help. They started by asking some friends of theirs with home businesses to donate some items for an online auction.
Boyko and Rennie had hoped to make maybe $1,000 through their online auction, but got more than they had hoped for.
So far, two online fundraising auctions have been held and Boyko said she and the rest of the impromptu fundraising coordinators have received enough item donations to hold three more auctions.
“The community support has been phenomenal,” said Boyko. “The companies that have stepped up and donated blew us out of the water. We never expected it. Never, never.”
Rennie agreed, saying that she, Boyko and Houston were incredibly grateful to all the businesses and everyone else who donated to and supported the fundraisers. She also credited social media with the wide and rapid spread of support for the fundraising efforts.
“All I have to say is social media is powerful,” said Rennie. “There is no other way to explain it.”
Rennie and Boyko said that local media soon got hold of them, which led to further support for the motion.
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” said Rennie. “Donations have been pouring in. My house is full.”
“There were times that us girls ran all day collecting stuff or people were dropping things off at all three homes,” added Boyko. “Emily has been just phenomenal in putting those auctions together.”
Another plan that Boyko, Rennie and Houston came up with was to have a fundraising barbeque, which happened this past weekend.
Boyko said the barbeque was another idea that quickly grew larger than she had expected.
Originally, Boyko had just planned to sell burgers with Rennie and Houston. When she contacted the Lacombe Fire Department to ask if she could borrow the department’s ‘Smoker 1’ mobile barbeque unit for the event, the department instead said they would volunteer to cook burgers and support the event as well.
It was a good thing too.
Boyko said the community response to the fundraising barbeque would have been more than she and her friends could have handled alone otherwise.
“We could not have done it without the fire department, there is no way.”
Other businesses, organizations and individuals stepped up to donate, volunteer or otherwise support as well, said Boyko.
On Oct. 5th Boyko and her friends held the fundraising barbeque and a silent auction for Cobetto.
After selling 700 pieces at the barbeque, volunteers had to run out and get more to keep feeding the hundreds of supporters that showed up for the event.
Boyko said she guessed the barbeque fed upwards of 800 people.
Houston said the response to the event was overwhelming.
“I honestly have to say that I am shocked,” said Houston. “There are really no words to describe how today went. There are no words to describe how amazing our community is and how everybody has pulled together and come to support a girl that half of them have probably never even met before.”
“It’s so amazing,” added Rennie. “It’s been a beautiful experience for me to see. I think with this whole thing its shown me that when you focus on something positive and everyone pulls together you can do amazing things and no one can stop you.”
Rennie said she went to visit Cobetto and her family the Sunday after the collision and told them of the fundraising plans.
Even then, the family was extremely grateful and taken aback by the community’s response.
“I told them that we were going to start (fundraising) and they were kind of shocked and didn’t know what to say but I don’t think any of us knew what to expect,” said Rennie.
Boyko said she is looking forward to meeting Cobetto and is planning to do so next week if Cobetto is feeling up to having visitors. Boyko added that she and Cobetto have communicated a little bit solely through text messages and Cobetto’s gratitude is apparent even in those few conversations.