ATWOOD — Officially, the raffle of a semiautomatic rifle to benefit youth baseball in the Atwood-Hammond area hasn't even begun.
Unofficially, it's already raised a couple thousand dollars.
Four times a year, the Atwood Armory, a gun shop in Douglas County, raffles off an AR-15 to benefit a local charity. Currently it's raising money for the Camden Foundation, a childhood cancer support group based in Ivesdale. More than $9,000 has been raised and that fundraiser continues until March 30.
Meanwhile, the business already has started to sell $20 raffle tickets for its April-June fundraiser for youth baseball in Atwood and Hammond. Nearly $3,000 in tickets have been sold at the store.
"The (baseball) one wasn't supposed to start until April 1st, but somehow someone got a hold of it with the media and it's been crazy ever since," said Charidy Butcher, who owns the business in rural Atwood with her husband, Bryan. "They purchase the raffle tickets from us, not the kids. A lot of people are saying, 'How can you have kids selling raffle tickets for a gun?' The kids have nothing to do with it. We're just raising money for them."
The prize being raffled includes the firearm and ammunition and is valued at more than $2,000, she said.
"We donate a portion of it. What we do is offer it to them at our cost and then we kick in $500 and some other stuff that goes with it, so they end up paying a small portion for it," Butcher said.
Youth baseball commissioner Steven McClain said he has been surprised by the media interest and subsequent raffle sales to people across the country.
"Honestly, all we had planned was putting it in the local paper, print some fliers like we normally do, and that's about it," McClain said.
"Now we're trying to figure out how to take money from people out of state," he added of calls that have come from "Alaska, Texas, Florida. You name a state and we're probably gotten interest from there."
Butcher has twin 5-year-old boys who play T-ball in the program.
"We need everything. We need new equipment, balls, helmets, that kind of thing. Our ball diamonds are in sad shape and we don't have enough of them," she said. "Last year my kids didn't even get diamond space. We had to play in the grass in an area with trees in it."
This year's youth baseball fundraiser already is more successful than last year's, she said.
"They raffled off half a hog and some other things and ended up clearing $10," she said. "This already has surpassed anyone's expectations. It was meant to be a local fundraiser like all our other raffles. We never dreamed it would go national as it has."
The youth baseball raffle is the sixth since the shop opened in 2011, she said. Last year in four separate fundraisers, the shop raised about $7,000.
"So we've already surpassed that with the Camden Foundation," she said.
Those wishing to purchase tickets can go to the gun shop, a mile north of Atwood and a quarter mile east on County Road 1175 North, or they can send a check.
"If they can't make it to the shop, they can send a check for the number of raffle tickets they'd want and make the checks out to the Atwood Armory," Butcher said. "I will send them their raffle tickets in the mail."
She said she's heard criticism of the raffle, but not from any local residents.
"No matter what you do, you're going to hear negative things. You could be doing the greatest thing in the world, and people will find fault with it. But all of the people around here, I have not heard one negative comment. Everyone has been supportive," she said. "Whoever wins, everything will be done legally. They'll have to go through the background check, just as if they were walking in off the street and purchasing it."