After a high-octane day at South Buffalo’s fire hall filled with tractor-pulling, face-painting and cheeseburger-munching, just before Ella Conroy went to bed Saturday night, the 6-year-old girl told her dad that she felt loved.
That moment of gratitude from the typically shy girl would have been enough to delight Ella’s dad, Nate Conroy.
He, Ella and other family and close friends returned to the South Buffalo Volunteer Fire Department’s station Tuesday night to thank the organizers of the Tractor and Truck Pull benefit that drew several hundred spectators and drivers in honor of Ella.
Ella’s family already felt grateful for the event, itself. They would have been elated to get a few thousands dollars to help offset expenses as Ella undergoes aggressive chemotherapy to fight the cancer growing on her spine.
‘We are so blessed, this is crazy’
As the sun set Tuesday night, a small crowd gathered outside South Buffalo’s fire station, eager to learn just how much money had been raised.
Organizers unveiled to Ella’s family a jumbo-sized check — $30,007.
Ella’s parents’ mouths gaped open. While holding Ella, the girl’s stepmom wiped away tears.
“We are so blessed, this is crazy,” said Nate Conroy, Ella’s dad. “We had no idea anything like this was ever going to happen.”
The fire department raised another $2,300 from concessions at the event that will go toward the fire hall. Firefighters donated another nearly $1,000 from the boot drive to Ella.
The majority of the $30,000 — more than two-thirds — came from individual donations collected for Ella at the event, said coordinator Erin Pflueger, whose husband is firefighter Capt. Justin Pflueger.
“The whole thing happened just because how good people are that live in Western Pennsylvania,” said Christian Foertsch, who helped present the check alongside organizers Erin and Justin Pflueger and Kevin Haas. “People from around the Saxonburg, Sarver, Natrona, Freeport, Tarentum area … and our friends from Ohio, people are just amazing.”
The organizers hope to continue to host more tractor pulls and community fundraisers in honor of different causes and people each year.
At the fire hall Tuesday, supporters clad in T-shirts emblazoned “Ella’s Army” discussed a few other events and activities in Ella’s honor. Among them is a “Stuff a Dumpster” project by Triple P Disposal LLC that aims to fill a dumpster at South Pike Square on Mulone Drive in Buffalo Township with toys to donate to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Ella’s name. People on Tuesday evening munched on slices of a cake while Ella and a few of her friends played on the fire garage’s large floor.
One friend pushed Ella in her wheelchair while she held another younger friend on her lap.
Ella has nearly a year of weekly chemotherapy treatments ahead of her. Doctors first discovered a tumor on her back when she was a toddler, and the surgery to remove it caused partial paralysis to her lower body. The family learned that the tumor started to grow again earlier this year, and began a new, aggressive chemo plan in July.
‘She does not fight alone’
Nate Conroy had something to present to the firefighters, too. He told them that South Buffalo Volunteer Fire Department was now family and handed them three gifts: a photo collage from Saturday’s truck pull benefit, framed clippings of the photos and story about the event from Sunday’s Valley News Dispatch edition of the Tribune-Review, and a laminated copy of the newspaper.
Within the framed display, he included a note from the family:
“Sept. 28, 2019 is a day our family will never forget. You at the South Buffalo Fire Department along with so many volunteers and sponsors put together a perfect day filled with love and fun for everyone involved. …
“Ella felt that love without question,” Nate Conroy read aloud from the framed message. “The outpouring of support from all of you will forever change her, and she will know that she does not fight alone.”