Day-long fundraiser held for Dawson family in St. Lawrence


When you're Exeter strong, you open early.

"We actually planned to start at 12, but we opened at 11, simply because we had a line already at 11," said franchisee Josh Nowotarski, who runs the Rita's in St. Lawrence.

The line would remain long through the afternoon and into the evening as shuttle buses took supporters to Rita's Italian Ice on Perkiomen Avenue in St. Lawrence, where an auction was held and "Exeter Strong" t-shirts were among the items sold at a fundraiser for the Dawson family in the wake of a tragic crash.

Those who were close to the family, including a young man who befriended rising Exeter Township High School senior Garhett, came out to show their support.

"I have good memories of him in school, in metal shop, because we would all just listen to music and have fun in class," Hunter Benfield said.

Three members of the family -- Bryan and his two children, Garhett and Kylie -- died of injuries they suffered when their vehicle was hit by an oncoming car in North Carolina on August 4. Melissa Dawson was not seriously injured. The family was on vacation at the time.

Community members showed up after hearing of such unimaginable tragedy, and responded with sympathy and support.

"So often you hear all this bad stuff happening and things happening in the community, but it's nice to hear something good happening for once, and all these people coming together that don't even know each other, coming together to support a family," said Megan Klan of Sinking Spring.

From close friend to complete stranger, the support remained strong.

"Some people are just bringing money and saying, 'This is the only way they know to help,'" said Denise Benfield, one of the organizers of the event. "They are praying and donating money, and in my opinion, donating money is giving her the freedom to mourn her family the way she can."