Fundraiser nets $1,600 and sends safety message

Kae Ehu Kai, a Hawaiian band and dancer, perform in front of

By Melissa Flores – Staff Writer
Gilroy
– The Kinkel family met their goal of raising $10,000 for a
scholarship fund after netting more than $1,600 Saturday at a
fundraiser hosted by Maui Tacos in Gilroy. Hula dancers,
firefighters and others all gathered to support the cause.
By Melissa Flores – Staff Writer

Gilroy – The Kinkel family met their goal of raising $10,000 for a scholarship fund after netting more than $1,600 Saturday at a fundraiser hosted by Maui Tacos in Gilroy. Hula dancers, firefighters and others all gathered to support the cause.

Those who came out to support the Erin Kinkel Scholarship Fund encountered a few ways to donate to the scholarship. The owners of Maui Tacos donated 15 percent of food sales for the day and each table was packed with supporters enjoying Mexican food with an island twist. Debbie Nash, owner of Cookie Lee Fine Fashion Jewelry, set up a table inside the restaurant and donated 25 percent of net sales for the day. Visitors could also purchase $2 wristbands that support the scholarship, printed with “Drive Responsibly E. K.”

With the help of Pacheco Pass shops, the family also put together a raffle to raise money for the scholarship. The Kinkel’s held the raffle drawing at 7pm and winners went home with jewelry, gift baskets from Its-A-Grind and Jamba Juice and gift certificates from Le Chic Nails and Spa. First prize winner Pete Tuttle, of Lewiston, Idaho, won a digital camera donated by Best Buy. The grand prize, a six-night stay at the Aston Kaanapali Villas in Maui, donated by Maui Tacos, went to George Gluck of Morgan Hill.

But things were hopping at the Pacheco Pass Shopping Center long before the drawing. Hawaiian band Ka Ehu Kai started playing island tunes for the crowd at 1pm. Visitors gathered to listen to the band and watched as hula dancers swayed to the music. Danielle Kinkel, 8, and her father joined Gilroy firefighter paramedic Heinz Maibaum for hula lessons, though the trio’s moves weren’t quite as smooth as their teacher’s.

Family and friends showed up in force at the fundraiser to remember the 15-year-old Gilroy High School student who died in August after she was thrown from the bed of a truck on Redwood Retreat Road. Anthony McDowell, the driver, is scheduled for trial later this month.

With the help of the California Department of Forestry, the Gilroy Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol, the Kinkels helped spread a message of safety while raising money. Young visitors climbed aboard a GFD fire truck while firefighters handed out free water bottles and stickers to promote safety. The CHP conducted car seat safety checks in the afternoon.

Friends of the high school student also came out to support the cause.

“I was Erin’s best friend,” Emelie Castillo, 17, said, with a waiver in her voice. “It’s for a good cause. We get to leave something in Erin’s name.”

Scott Kinkel said it is Erin’s friends and other teenagers around town who really inspired the family to start the scholarship.

“We want to say thank you to the hundreds of teenagers who have helped us get through it,” he said. “They have literally saved our lives.”

His daughter’s friends still stop by to bring cookies or to spend time with Erin’s younger sisters; Megan, 12, Danielle, 8, and Catherine 4. For Erin’s mother, Miki, the main purpose of the event is not the scholarship, but the message of driving safely.

“The scholarship is important, but more important is making other teens safe,” she said.

The idea for the wristband came when the family was at Gilroy High School last fall.

“We were at a football game which was very hard for me because I kept watching the cheerleaders,” she said. “I barely made it through the first quarter without crying.”

But when her daughter Megan noticed someone wearing a Lance Armstrong “Livestrong” wristband, the idea for the dark blue wristband was born.

Donna Tomlinson and her husband, Kevin, who own Maui Tacos with Lise and Bryan Pinkham, said they were eager to do something to help the Kinkel family raise money for the scholarship. The Tomlinsons met the Kinkels through West Coast Martial Arts in Morgan Hill where their children take lessons.

“I remember watching Erin at 15 with her mother and the closeness that they had together,” Donna said. “I hoped that [my daughter] Rachel and I would be that close when she got to that age. It touched me how loving they were.”

Tomlinson said because she couldn’t begin to understand how overwhelming the loss is to the Kinkel family, she wanted to help by selling the wristbands at Maui Tacos. After giving it some more thought, she came up with the idea for the all-day fundraiser.

“I just want to say how amazing the owners of Maui Tacos are to do this for us,” Miki said.

She said she feels lucky her family moved to Gilroy eight years ago because of the response they have received from the community.

“Everyone says Erin is an angel, but we have so many angels here,” Miki said. “The community is filled with them.”

The Erin Kinkel scholarship will be given out for the first time next year, to one 2006 graduating senior from each high school in the Gilroy Unified and Morgan Hill Unified school districts. The $500 scholarship will go to seniors who have been accepted to a two- or four-year college. The winners will be students who have shown a commitment to community service; involvement in Erin’s favorite activities, including gymnastics, cheerleading and performing arts; and have maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average.

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