UPDATE: According to Ellen Stephens-Kahl, Olive Garden restaurants in Oswego and Naperville will donate all the food for the May 23 benefit dinner, and provide servers as well.
Tragedy has a way of defining a community, of bringing people together to help the healing process in any way they can.
The story of Jennifer VanEtten is no different. Ever since of the devastating accident on Tuesday night in Montgomery that claimed the life of the Big Rock 16-year-old, people have been rallying around the family, hoping to find a way to help.
Here are a couple of ways you can do just that.
Family members have organized a spaghetti dinner at the Plano American Legion Post 395, at 510 E. Dearborn Street in Plano, from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23. Donations will be taken at the door. The Facebook event for the dinner is here.
Jenny’s aunt, Ellen Stephens-Kahl, helped put the event together, and she said the American Legion has donated use of the hall for the event.
“Everyone pulled together, everyone is doing everything they can,” she said.
If you’re unable to make the dinner, you can still donate directly to the VanEtten family at BMO Harris Bank in Plano. The address is 2005 W. Rt. 34, Plano, IL, 60545. Make checks payable to the Jenny VanEtten Memorial Fund.
Jenny’s cousin, Katie Troyer, has also launched her own fundraiser – she and several friends are accepting donations of $6 or more for t-shirts with Jenny’s picture on them. To order one, visit this Facebook page and leave a comment with the shirt size you would like.
They’ll be selling them through May 20, the date of a planned noon memorial at the American Legion Hall in Plano.
Community members have already rallied to bring a glimmer of joy to the family. After the accident, the family dog, Scrappy, a black and brown German Shepherd, ran from the van and was lost. A post on Lost Dogs Illinois was shared online, and Stephens-Kahl said it was a shared post on Patch that led to the dog’s return.
Scrappy had apparently headed to a house about half a mile from the accident site, she said, and the owners of that house had been caring for him. One of them, a nurse, saw the Lost Dogs Illinois posting and contacted the VanEtten family.
“I called my brother-in-law, who was on his way to get Scrappy before he was even off the phone,” Stephens-Kahl said. “It was a little bit of comfort for the family during the worst possible time.”
VanEtten was driving her family’s 1994 Chevrolet Astrovan north on Orchard Road at the Route 30 intersection around 8:20 p.m. Tuesday when a semi truck owned by ABF Freight Systems Inc. of Aurora turned left from the southbound lane, striking the minivan head-on, Montgomery police said.
Stephens-Kahl said that Jennifer, her mother Sheryl, 38, and her sister Crystal, 13, had just finished eating dinner at Chili’s in Oswego, and were on their way home after a day of shopping when the accident occurred.
Jennifer was airlifted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, and died from her injuries at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the DuPage County Coroner’s office.
Sheryl and Crystal were both treated for minor injuries at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora, and released. The truck driver declined medical treatment at the scene, according to Oswego Fire Department officials.
The accident is still under investigation, police said.
Stephens-Kahl said Jenny made one last post to Facebook from Chili’s before the accident: “Shopping with Mom and Crystal, eating at Chili’s. Yum! :-) :-)" Stephens-Kahl said that post has been a source of comfort for the family.
“In that moment, she was happy,” she said.