Benefit for beloved fire chief goes on despite theft of classic car for raffle prize

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A small town in southeastern Minnesota has rallied for its longtime fire chief who faces serious health challenges.

Residents of Caledonia flocked to a Saturday benefit for Caledonia Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chuck Gavin, who was diagnosed with ALS--also known as Lou Gehrig's disease--in 2014.

The group staging the benefit has faced their own setback.

Bluff Country News reported that Gavin's fellow firefighters were among those who set up a “Friends of Chuck” committee to raise money to assist the Gavin family. Gavin served the fire department in the town of 3,000 for 24 years, and, as chief for 15 years, was a mentor to many of his younger counterparts.

Last month, a car that the group planned for its top raffle prize was stolen. The restored 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which organizers bought for $15,000 disappeared from a local auto dealership.

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At the time of the theft, Caledonia Police Chief Kurt Zehnder told KSTP that residents of Caledonia were shocked by the crime.

“This is a huge blow to the community. It is a slap in our face,” Zehnder said.

The car has not been recovered.

What the newspaper described as "a huge outpouring of community support" followed the theft, with donations for a large cash prize to replace the car as a raffle prize. The fundraiser, held at a school, included a meal with a free will donation and a live auction.

The Facebook page promoting the benefit shows that it was well-attended.

In a written statement, the Friends of Chuck said, “Chuck and his family have already begun to face the life-changing challenges that his disease has brought on, including physical, emotional and financial ones. We are hoping that those whose lives he has touched will rally together in a big way to provide him all of the support he and his family will need to face this disease and help provide them with everything they need now and in the future.”

A GoFundMe account has also been set up, with proceeds to benefit the Gavin family.

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