As first graders walked into the multipurpose room at Paddock Lane, there was some speculation as to what was hidden beneath the blanket in the room.
A Spider-Man blanket was draped over something on an easel and the group of boys considered what it might be.
“It’s a book,” one guessed.
“It’s a picture,” another said.
“I think it’s Spider-Man,” said a third.
What was under the blanket might have been a mystery, but the reason for the morning assembly was clear.
For his 10th birthday, Paddock Lane fourth grader Ethan Buss didn’t ask for presents. Instead, he asked for Red Cross donations to the people affected by wildfires and hurricanes this summer. At a celebration at Risky’s in Beatrice on Oct. 29, Ethan—with help from the community—raised more than $5,000 for the Red Cross.
On Monday, Paddock Lane held a rally in Ethan’s honor with his family, friends, teachers and members of the Red Cross to celebrate all the money he raised to help people in need.
After congratulating him on his efforts, Paddock Lane Principal Betty Replogle called Ethan up front to unveil the item under the blanket. In front of 300 classmates, teachers, family members and friends, Ethan pulled back the blanket and saw a homemade sign showing that he had raised more than he thought.
“I thought we were close to $4,000,” Ethan said. “But then I saw we were over $5,000. That was our goal, so it felt really good.”
About a month before his birthday, Ethan had the idea that he wanted to lend a hand. Originally, his parents thought they’d hold a small celebration with the idea of raising $200 or so. When the staff of Risky’s heard about Ethan’s idea from his grandparents, Bob and Sharon Roberts, they thought they could help raise the stakes a bit.
With Ethan’s eyes now set on a goal of $1,000, Risky’s staff challenged themselves to bring in $5,000.
“We were 100 percent onboard,” said Jennifer Brejcha of Risky's. “Especially when they brought it to our attention that this is what he wanted for his 10th birthday. What 10-year-old actually does this for their birthday?”
“We need more of that,” added Risky’s General Manager Chelsea Stevens. “The fact that he was a part of it made it that much better. Because he wanted to help serve, he wanted to help clean, he wanted to talk to people. He wanted it to be a big deal. And it was.”
Risky’s Kitchen Manager Jeff Scott prepared 20 pounds of pasta, 40 pounds of hamburger and a large amount of salad and threw a fundraising party.
There was a raffle, a spaghetti feed and the Red Cross was on hand as well. Jars had been placed on tables at Risky’s leading up to the big day to help raise money.
By the day of the party, Stevens said, they had only raised about $1,300 for Ethan’s cause, which was good, but nowhere near their goal.
The hundreds of people who came to the party donated around $4,200 in one afternoon, she said, which was an inspiration.
Ethan and his friends worked alongside Risky’s staff, serving and busing tables, making sure that they knew exactly what he was raising the money for.
Executive director of the Lincoln Red Cross, Steph Novacek said that the $5,000 raised at Ethan’s birthday party will go to help 2,000 people.
The money will be used to buy thousands of hygiene kits to help people in disaster-stricken areas. A lot of focus goes to giving food, but for many people hit by natural disasters, a shower and a toothbrush go a long way toward feeling better again.
Red Cross gift-planning officer, Char DeWitt, was also on hand at Paddock Lane on Monday and said Ethan’s efforts will help a lot of people.
“I really applaud his thoughts, his efforts and his hard work in making that goal,” DeWitt said. “It's amazing, it's really amazing.”
To help raise funds at the party, a large donation of Husker items were donated for the raffles, Ethan's mom, Amber Shufeldt, said. But, there was one item that was destined just for Ethan.
Tom Osborne wrote a personal letter to Ethan and signed a football for him, which, Shufeldt said, is a priceless gift.
“It's bizarre,” she said. “It's overwhelming. I'm glad that he's recognizing at a young age that you can do a good deed and it can really manifest into something amazing where you get that feeling in return. I just want him to know that you do good deeds no matter what.”
Most of the people in attendance seemed amazed that Ethan was able to pull off something like this, but not Replogle. She wasn’t surprised in the least that he’d be able to accomplish his goals, she said, and she wasn’t surprised that his friends would jump in to help, but she was extraordinarily proud.
“We have lots of areas where we can do our little bit and make a huge difference to a lot of people” Replogle said. “I hope this spurs other ideas in other boys and girls.”
Shufeldt said that she’s proud of Ethan and that the community’s response has restored her faith in humanity, but mostly, she’s proud of her son and she’s ready for whatever he thinks up next.
“He's like, 'Oh, we can do this every year,'” Shufeldt said. “And I'm thinking at least I have a year instead of a month to plan.”