A fundraiser for a Champaign mom with a debilitating muscle disease netted more than $50,000 Friday night.
Organizers were stunned by the turnout at the benefit for Tricia Evans at the Hilton Garden Inn, which drew more than 500 people.
Ticket sales, auction proceeds and donations toward the benefit totaled just over $50,000 after expenses.
“It was incredible, a huge outpouring,” Erin Shumaker of Faith United Methodist Church in Champaign. who organized the fundraiser along with friends Prudence Adams, Wendy Barker, Bob Januzik and Rene Shunk.
Evans was diagnosed last October  with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in muscle weakness or atrophy.
The benefit was intended to help Tricia and her husband, Jim Evans, with expenses related to the illness. They have two daughters, Kelly, 11, and Sarah, 6, who has Down syndrome.
Friday night’s lineup included ‘80s music by “The Brat Pack” and a speech by former WCIA television personality Judy Fraser, who has worked with the Muscular Dystrophy Association for more than 35 years.
Several of Jim and Tricia Evans’ high school and college friends showed up, and Tricia Evans, who celebrated her birthday last week, was also presented with a birthday cake as the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”
Tricia Evans stayed until 12:45 a.m., relishing seeing everybody she cared about “all in one place on one night.”
“I didn’t want it to end,” she said. “It was so good to see everybody and talk to everybody. I just needed more time to sit and talk to them.”
Guests were asked to fill out notecards with stories about Evans that they’d like to share with her family. Shumaker said she and other organizers collected the cards, but hotel employees went through every piece of paper that night and found a stack that they’d missed.
The hotel staff also provided an accessible suite for Evans to use during the evening, opened up an extra room for the overflow crowd, and wrote a note thanking Evans for allowing them to be a part of it.
Jim Evans posted a note on the benefit’s Facebook page, thanking supporters for their generosity and support.
“We just love everyone and we really felt the love that night,” Tricia Evans said Monday. “That’s going to help us stay strong.”
Evans, who shared her story in a June 7 column  in The News-Gazette, was amazed at the community reaction.
Shumaker said she took Evans shopping for an outfit for the benefit last Thursday but Evans forgot her wallet. They asked the clerk to hold the outfit until she could go home and get it, but the customer behind them in line insisted on paying for it. The woman said she had read about Evans in the paper and her bunco group had decided to donate their winnings from that week, too. They ended up contributing $200, Shumaker said.
Donations to the family can still be made via the Evans Family Benefit,  First Federal Bank, C/O Elizabeth Reed, P.O. Box 1010, Champaign, IL 61824.
Shumaker said people can also help by volunteering for or donating in Evans’ name to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, www.mdausa.org , which funds research on ALS and related diseases and provides advocacy, education and support for families, including Evans. The Central Illinois chapter is at 115 N. Neil St., C, phone 351-1853, or on Facebook .
Staff writer Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois. Her column, Are We There Yet?, appears every other Tuesday in The News-Gazette's Family section. You can leave a comment below, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org  or (217) 351-5226, or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.
Photo: Jim and Tricia Evans and their daughters, Kelly, 11, and Sarah, 6. Copyright Sweet Pea Photography