(photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
NEW MADRID - Amelia Patterson solved the problem of earning the money to be a member of a New Madrid County Relay For Life team. The 13-year-old simply went fishing.
So far, she has reeled in $3,550 for the Aug. 2 event designed to raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society. The money continues to arrive with about $4,000 total pledged.
Patterson admits she never really thought about raising this much money to benefit the ACS. In fact, she wasn't even sure she could earn the $100 required to be on the Division of Family Services team.
Looking for a way to raise the needed money, Patterson thought about her hobby, breeding and raising tropical fish. For the past couple of years, she has developed her skill with fish, reading books and finding assistance through the Internet, in particular a site called www.aquabid.com, where other breeders offer aquarium-related items and fish for sale as well as share advice.
From her first efforts of raising a fish she caught in the river, she now has a 55-gallon tank, a 14-gallon tank and three 5-gallon tanks filled with fish. But it was three particular little fish that started her thinking.
"At the time I had three Red Wag Platy fry," said Patterson. "One fish for each kid in New Madrid I knew who has been diagnosed with cancer. I put the fish up for auction."
Patterson posted a notice about her fish, hoping for a bid of at least $15. "I was really happy," said Patterson when the first bid was posted. "I really wanted to be on a Relay for Life team and that was the first step forward."
After that first bid arrived, she posted a photo of the fish and explained to the others on aquabid.com her goal. She wrote about what the fish represented to her and assured them that any money raised would be donated to the cause, minus the shipping.
She added: "I ask that you please help me in this fund raiser. You would be making a very big difference in the lives of children that need everyone's help in fighting cancer. Please bid generously on my trio of Red Wag Platies. ... Remember every time you look at these Platies you will know how much you have helped save lives."
Her message struck a chord. That evening the bid was more than doubled, by the next night it had gone to $60.
Her parents, David and Karen Patterson, were surprised and pleased with the response. While they were hopeful for more bids, what they didn't expect was the aquabid.com viewers taking up their daughter's cause.
Some offered bids on her three fishes, others began offering their own items - fish, plants, equipment - with the proceeds donated to Patterson's fund-raising efforts. Most of the sellers offered free shipping and extra incentives at their own expense.
Trying to explain their enthusiasm for the cause, Patterson noted their messages often included a personal note. One individual said he had a nephew with cancer, another was recovering from cancer.
"I think because most everyone has been affected by cancer in some way they responded," she said. "We all want to find a cure."
Patterson didn't personally know those who took up her cause, because like her they go by creative computer names on the site. She is Guppygirl and was assisted in her fund-raising by Fondoffish, Fishy, SGypsyMermaid and others.
The donations have come in envelopes from across the country; the first was from Hilo, Hawaii.
"So many wonderful people have been involved in this fantastic event," said Mrs. Patterson. "The people at aquabid took the effort of a child, added themselves to it and made something unbelievable happen."
The young fish breeder and soon-to-be ACS Relay for Life walker has yet to say good-bye to the little fish that have helped her cause. But soon she will send them to a new home; Afinaddict entered the winning bid of $200.
"They are so precious to me," she said of her fish. "They started this whole thing and got everyone to pull together to help."
And the young Relay for Life team member said she has learned a lot from her fund-raising. "I realize now that three fish can do a lot. Little things can help a really great cause, so don't be afraid to try. Unbelievable things do happen."
And the little fish are responsible for something else too. Those on the aquabid.com site now are talking about making the fund-raiser an annual event for the Relay for Life.
Another multiplying of fishes to create more miracles.