Willingham donates $40K to PCES
PHIL CAMPBELL – Over eight months after the E-F5 tornado cut a path of destruction through Phil Campbell, donations to help rebuild the area are still coming in.
On Thursday, Phil Campbell Elementary School received $40,000 from the Josh Willingham Foundation to help finish the school’s new playground that was constructed by volunteers from Disney, KaBOOM! and local citizens.
PCES Principal Jackie Ergle said the money given to the school by the Josh Willingham Foundation would go towards the purchase of eight standard swings; sod for the future grassy area where children could run and play games; and a cover for the granite memorial that honors the memory of second-grade teacher Patricia Gentry, fourth-grader Ethan Knox and third-grader Edgar Mojica, who were killed by the tornado.
Ergle said the money would also help make the Gentry-Knox-Mojica Playground wheelchair accessible and provide a place where children in wheelchairs could play as well.
“The generosity from the Josh Willingham Foundation is just a continuation of the blessings we as a school have received from so many people,” Ergle said. “We just thank Josh from the bottom of our hearts for investing in our children here and for caring about their well-being. We appreciate it so much and we know the students do, too.”
Willingham, who is a Florence native who is now a professional baseball player for the Minnesota Twins, came to Phil Campbell on Thursday along with his family to present the check personally to Ergle and other school officials.
“When we first set up the foundation, the goal was to help underprivileged kids and those who needed some extra support,” Willingham said.
“When the tornadoes came through this area, it was just a no-brainer that we would redirect our focus for the time being to help the people who had been affected by the tornado and needed help to rebuild.”
Willingham’s wife, Ginger, said the money raised through the Foundation for tornado victims came largely from fans of the Oakland Athletics, the team Willingham played for this past season.
According to Ginger, the A’s wives raised $10,000 through an auction they had at the stadium. She also said the owner of the A’s gave $5,000, the players donated money and the MLB Players Association matched the $15,000 that the players gave.
“The A’s fans really came through,” Ginger said. “The Alabama tornadoes weren’t really in the news in California so they were surprised at how much damage and destruction had been done and wanted to help.”
Even though he’ll be gearing up for spring training, Willingham said he hoped to be able to come back to Phil Campbell when more components of the playground are added in the next few months and lend a hand.
“This is a great thing for these kids and I’m glad we could help them get their playground back,” he said.