Charitable donations for firefighter families ‘overwhelming,’ organizers say

A T-shirt being sold to raise money for the families of two Kansas City firefighters killed last week shows both men’s names on the back.
A T-shirt being sold to raise money for the families of two Kansas City firefighters killed last week shows both men’s names on the back.

Two days after a fire killed her firefighting uncle, Bianca Caponetto sat down at her computer.

Signing into an online fundraising site, she designed a shirt bearing the names of her uncle, John Mesh, and Larry Leggio, the other Kansas City firefighter who died battling the Oct. 12 blaze on Independence Avenue.

“I was excited about selling 12 shirts the first night,” said Caponetto, who intends to divide the proceeds between the two families.

“The next day we sold 1,000.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, donors had purchased 2,360 shirts.

The response has been just one manifestation of an outpouring of respect and concern — from Kansas City and across the country — for the two firefighters’ families.

Another Kansas City area T-shirt enterpreneur designed a baseball cap incorporating the initials “KC” with “FD.” Demand has exceeded supply.

The Independence School District has established a fund for Mesh’s four daughters, all of whom attend district schools. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph created memorial scholarship funds honoring both firefighters to help low-income students attend Catholic schools.

Gifts have poured in as well to the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42. The donations have been challenging to keep up with, said Bill Galvin, Local 42 president. As of Tuesday the union had received approximately $54,000.

“The donations have been from individuals and businesses, as well as from firefighter unions across the county,” Galvin said. “It’s just been overwhelming.”

That figure includes $10,000, or $5,000 for each family, donated by Laurence Leavy, the Miami lawyer known as the “Marlins Man,” Galvin said.

The donations continue to arrive, and it’s reasonable to expect the total to increase, Galvin said.

Then there are the custom baseball caps. Last week, Andrew Romano, a friend of both firefighters who operates Cumpy’s T-Shirt Shop in Pleasant Valley, delivered almost 50 baseball caps bearing a unique design incorporating the initials “KC” and “FD” to Kauffman Stadium.

After some Royals wore them during batting practice before Wednesday’s playoff game, Romano resolved to make hats available to the public as a fundraiser.

Since then he has added three phone lines to his store.

“It’s been overwhelming,” said Romano, who declined to estimate the amount generated until he could make a final contribution.

“But I think it’s going to be a great turnout for the families.”

After the fire, Independence School District officials established a fund through the Independence School District Foundation to help the Mesh family meet funeral expenses and establish college funds for the firefighter’s four daughters.

Student groups have been donating money from ticket sales to school events. On Tuesday the total stood at about $4,300, said Jana Corrie, school district spokeswoman.

“There is a lot of care and concern for the families,” Corrie said.

Caponetto, meanwhile, felt compelled to do something after gathering with family members the day after the fire. Mesh’s four daughters, she said, wanted bracelets that honored their father.

Caponetto went online to get that done. While at the computer, she remembered that a work colleague had made T-shirts in honor of his daughter, a leukemia patient, through an online fundraiser site, Booster.com.

“It was pretty straightforward,” Caponetto said, describing how she designed the shirts, which featured the firefighters’ names on the back.

“I was just trying to think of some way I could help.”

The shirts went on sale Oct. 14. Word spread, especially on social media, she said.

The Booster.com site allows purchasers to leave messages, and donors from across the country and Kansas City have been identifying themselves as members of the extended public-safety family, a relative of a KCFD firefighter or simply somebody who had been helped by a firefighter in the past.

No actual shirts yet exist. After the campaign ends Nov. 12, the shirts will be printed and mailed to donors. Proceeds will be sent to Caponetto, minus the costs of printing and shipping the shirts, as well as a percentage withheld by Booster.com. As of Tuesday afternoon, the sales had totaled more than $38,770.

The site allows purchasers to make donations above their purchase.

Caponetto, meanwhile, is thanking each donor individually online.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” she said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree