A topic that doesn’t seem to get much mainstream news: the rate of suicide is rising. Claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 Americans in 2016, it’s one of the leading causes of death in the United States. That’s according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, which tracks suicide data across the country.
For Kelly Burke, manager of Reese & Ray’s IGA in Sidney, Montana, located in a rural area in the eastern side of the state, the issue is personal.
Pictured are, left to right, IGA staff Jordan Romero, Taylor Wasley, Jessica Wiese ,and Jammi Uran, Nick Kallem with Suicide Prevention, and IGA staff Carol Erickson, Kelly Burke, Elisa Watts, Sandee Zech, and Tim Bazick.
“My brother took his life years ago,” she said, which led her to become a volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which hosts "Out of the Darkness" fundraiser walks and runs suicide prevention programs in all 50 states. “I do the walk, I raise money, I do whatever I can,” Burke said. It’s a mystery why the suicide rate in Montana is high, she added, but one thing is clear: the need to support prevention efforts. Working on a local level, AFSP runs a crisis hotline and other initiatives, but work remains in helping to get the word out, she said. "We're hoping to make a difference and get people talking about it. It needs to be talked about."
Through the support and endorsement of Reese & Ray’s owners, the Sidney store has taken on fundraising efforts for the "Out of the Darkness" campaign. For starters, during the month of April, the store held a "Life Saver" fundraiser, where they requested donations of a $1 or more at the registers, resulting in a donation of $1,836 to AFSP.
Motivated by that strong response, Burke organized a Rib Fest that took place May 16 in the store parking lot. She worked with distributors to negotiate some discounts on the ribs, of which Reese & Ray’s covered the costs, so that all the profits could go directly to AFSP. Pepsi donated a food truck and in addition to ribs the store sold cookies made in the bakery and root beer floats. The fundraiser started at 11 a.m. and by 4 p.m. they had sold out of ribs, raising over $800, said Burke. The team spent minimal funds on advertising, relying on Facebook, flyers in the store, and an ad in the paper. “Word of mouth goes fast in small towns,” she said.
The event was so successful they’ve already planned another one for September 4, which will raise funds and awareness for Eastern Montana’s annual "Out of the Darkness" suicide prevention walk taking place September 23. The store will also accept donations at the register during the month of September for a second round of the Life Saver fundraiser.
Reese & Ray’s has six IGA locations in Montana and Wyoming, and the Sidney store is the first to champion this cause, said Burke, who aims to turn it into an ongoing effort. “I think we started something and we can maybe keep going, turn it into an annual event and meet our goals,” she said.