For M.G. Chamberlain, it was an easy call.
A friend could use some help, she works at a place known for holding fundraisers, and she plays basketball at a university at which the athletic department considers community involvement a fundamental part of its purpose.
So, despite the fact it was fall break at Mississippi University for Women, Owls basketball players and coaches spent five hours Saturday at Zachary’s in Columbus, sharing the story of Chamberlain’s friend, Chelsea Mize, who is battling cancer, and collecting donations to help her pay for medical expenses.
“She’s 23 years old, just got engaged,” said Chamberlain, a junior forward at The W. “She’s 23 years old, just got engaged. But before she had surgery, they found it had progressed to Stage 2. She had a double mastectomy, and now she’s having to pay for fertility treatments and chemo, radiation.
“We’re just raising money to help her cover that because I’m sure she’s stressed out with the expenses of breast cancer while trying to plan a wedding.”
Enter Zachary’s. For two decades, owner Doug Pellum has made being a positive part of the community an important part of the restaurant’s profile. Zachary’s has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, and when Chamberlain, who has worked there for all of two months, asked Pellum about a way to help her friend, the boss did her one better.
“Mary Grace came to us and said, I’ve got this real close friend of mine that has cancer, and she was wondering if we could put a tip jar out,” Pellum recalled. “I told her a tip jar’s not going to do too much, so why don’t we get together and do a fundraiser, get the university involved and make it a little bigger than a tip jar.”
Enter The W. Women’s basketball coach Drew Johnson, beginning his third season with the Owls, was enthusiastic about the idea Chamberlain when brought it to him.
“MG approached me, probably in early September, about this cause, and I was on board from the get-go,” Johnson said. “Of course, we had to go through proper channels to get it approved and all that fine print stuff.
“We’re really excited about this opportunity to help.”
So were Chamberlain’s teammates, seven of whom were at Zachary’s for the start of the 11 a.m.-4 p.m. event with two more expected later.
“We’re big on community service, anyone who needs a hand, so I was glad to do this,” said team captain Christiana Harris. “When (Johnson) told me about it, I was on board. I thought, that’s perfect. I’m actually a greeter, so this is my specialty.”
“The basketball players are greeting tables, greeting people as they walk in and tell Chelsea’s story and inform them that 15 percent of all sales are going toward her today, and donations are accepted,” Chamberlain said.
Pellum donating 15 percent of sales during a fundraiser likely is just the first of many events his restaurant does with The W.
“As soon as the new athletic director (Jennifer Claybrook) came into town, I met her the first day and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to get involved in any way we can with the university, get their name out there,’” Pellum said. “Let everybody know what’s going on, meet the coaches, meet the players, and this gives us an opportunity to do that.”
Pellum and the staff at Zachary’s take advantage of many opportunities to help, and he estimates they do six or eight major fundraisers each year. The restaurant is closed Sundays, so many of the larger efforts are done on Sunday.
In recent months, Zachary’s has raised thousands of dollars for the owner of a competing restaurant who has cancer and lacks insurance and raised thousands more for the owner of another restaurant which burned down in July.
Other worthy causes include the college fund for the son of a man who died in a motorcycle accident, money for a homeless woman who needed surgery, the Columbus Arts Council and the Columbus Lowndes Humane Society.
Some of the causes are personal, some more general, and this one was clearly the former.
“I know the family very well, and they would do anything for anybody else,” Chamberlain said of Chelsea Mize’s family. “I thought since I’m an employee at Zachary’s and a basketball player at The W, I could kind of merge the two and try and do something for her.”
Johnson said the school’s new sports information director, Dave Beyer, helped spread the word about the fundraiser.
“Dave did a great job of getting the flyers put together and getting that information out there,” Johnson said. “I expect a really big turnout, but Zachary’s has a big turnout anyway. It helps when you have great food.”
And great people: Zachary’s customers donated $1,538 during the five hours the Owls players were there, which will provide a financial and emotional boost for Chamberlain’s close friend.
“Last time I talked to her she said she was doing much better,” Chamberlain said. “Of course, the surgery was very tough on her, and she wasn’t feeling too well for a while. But she’s progressing, doing better each day.”