Dozens of people gathered Saturday in Jefferson City to support the family of a fallen Mid-Missouri Marine.
Sgt. Talon Leach, a 27-year-old native of the Fulton area, was one of 16 military members killed in an airplane crash July 10 in Mississippi. Volunteers organized a chicken dinner and silent auction fundraiser at American Legion Post 5 in Jefferson City to raise money for the family. Organizers said they felt it was their responsibility to take care of a military family during a time of need.
Organizer Rhonda Riney wore a red shirt that said "Marine Mom" to the event because her son serves at a U.S. base in Okinawa, Japan. She did not know Leach or his family before the crash. When she heard a local man was killed in the crash through a mutual friend she shares with Leach's mom, though, she jumped into action and began organizing the chicken dinner.
"I couldn't imagine standing alone, and I didn't want (Leach's mom) standing alone," Riney said. "There's too many of us in this community for any of us to stand alone."
Jefferson City firefighter Daren Reuter is a Marine veteran. He helped Riney organize the event over the last three weeks. Reuter said Mid-Missouri veterans know they need to help other military families.
"The whole idea behind this is patriotism in Mid-Missouri and paying it forward," Reuter said. "When someone loses a family member, it strikes at the heartstrings."
Leach graduated from North Callaway High School. He was a critical skills operator with the 2nd Raider Battalion and was deployed between December 2015 and July 2016 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military operation against ISIS.
Organizers ordered 200 dinners of broasted chicken, corn, green beans, rolls and apple cobbler, which sold for $13 each. White T-shirts with "Support our troops" scribbled in cursive on black dog tags on the front and the words "We stand behind the fallen, remember; honor; support Talon Leach" on the back, sold for $15 each. Volunteers also held a silent auction, which included about 40 items like quilts, Royals tickets and items from Auto Zone. Organizers also sold 50/50 raffle tickets to raise money for the family.
Riney had no idea how much money she expected to raise Saturday, but said every little bit helps the family.
"I'll be good if they sell out the chicken dinners," Riney said.
Jim Rosenberg with American Post 5 emceed the event. He said the group had the building and space to hold the fundraiser, and since it's a veteran service organization, its mission is to help veterans and their families. Rosenberg felt proud about how many different military branches he'd seen just an hour into the event.
"So far I've seen representatives from the Marine Corps League and the VFW here," Rosenberg said. "We're all friends. What we do is for the veterans. We help the veterans. We make our facilities available to them."
Leach's body will be laid to rest later this month at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. His mom, Lisa Corbet, declined an interview with the News Tribune, but Riney said some of the funds raised will go toward paying for the family's travel costs.
"There's a lot of traveling going on," Riney said. "Talon is being buried at Arlington. They'll have a memorial in North Carolina, then they'll have a (procession) in North Callaway."
A local memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Aug. 20 at North Callaway High School. It will be followed by a procession through Fulton at 5 p.m. along North Business 54 and Market Street. People can pick up flags at Debo Funeral Home in Fulton before the procession.