AYER -- Music, chatter and a solid sense of community flowed through a packed crowd at Billiards Cafe on Sunday, when locals came out to raise money for former public-safety dispatcher Terri Fuhs.
The event raised more than $3,000 for Fuhs, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma last year. A dispatcher for seven years, Fuhs is now out of work and in a rehabilitation center.
Attendees enjoyed food from Tiny's Restaurant, Devens Pizza and Deli, and Verona Pizza and Seafood while listening for raffle items donated by local businesses.
"I don't think we expected this many people," said Detective Kellie Barhight, president of the Ayer Police Patrol Officers Association, the group that helped organize the fundraiser along with the Ayer firefighters union. "It's good to see small-town America still coming out and helping people."
Officer Matthew Callahan also said the turnout was much better than expected.
"We were a little worried a couple of weeks ago, but in the last two weeks we've had a lot of support at the last minute," he said.
Before the big night, Police Department members also set up separate accounts with the online website GoFundMe and with North Middlesex Savings Bank. The GoFundMe account has raised more than $3,000 in only one month.
Local support came from everywhere, including Billiards Cafe owner Calvin Moore. Callahan said Moore donated the room, the tables and a portion of his earnings.
"A lot of credit should go to Calvin Moore and the Billiards Cafe, because it's gotten to the point where he's the go-to guy," Callahan said, adding that Billiards had just hosted a similar event a couple of weeks ago.
"It's nice because it isn't like we had to arm wrestle anybody. It just seems like everybody's gotten to the point where they have an expectation that they'll give something."
Officer Brian Cunningham, who also helped plan the fundraiser, said the event snowballed once people started working on it.
"Everybody kind of said, 'well, I can do this,'" said Cunningham, whose wife donated a painting for the raffle.
Surrounded by friends and colleagues, Fuhs said she felt blessed.
"I am just totally blown away by the turnout," Fuhs said. "It is just so, so moving to me -- I don't even know what to say."
The blood cancer has left Terri with a broken jaw, shoulder and back, according to her GoFundMe page. Fuhs' cancer cell count stayed in a normal range for three months, but when she tried to return to work last month, her count went up again.
Fuhs said when she finishes rehab in a few weeks, she will get to go home. She will have a stem-cell transplant when she goes back into remission.
Things have been hard for Fuhs, but she said she is getting good care and is fortunate to have such good family and friends.
"I just feel so blessed," she said. "The number of people who care is just incredible. I'll never forget it."
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