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By RUSTY DENNEN
Upwards of 1,500 people will gather at White Oak Equipment in Stafford County next weekend to chow down on oysters for a good cause.
The oyster roast, in its 28th year, will raise money for Dominic Beltran, 5, who is fighting stage four neuroblastoma. Dominic lives in Stafford with his parents and two younger brothers. He has been fighting the rare form of pediatric cancer, which attacks the nervous system, for four years.
The fundraiser, put on by Fairview Baptist Church, White Oak Equipment and about a dozen other area businesses, begins at 3 p.m. March 3. Diners make a donation for a meal of oysters, hot dogs, chips, coleslaw and dessert.
The oyster roast began as a church gathering.
"I would go to Lancaster" in the Northern Neck, "and get oysters," said Frank McCarty, former owner of White Oak Equipment. He has since sold the business to his son, Mark.
Back then, McCarty was a member of Friendship Baptist Church.
One night in 1984, as he was preparing for the feast, he said God told him to use the roast to help an employee who was ill.
"I went to the church and asked the pastor: If the men would do the work, I'd clean up my shop" for the dinner and donate any proceeds to the employee.
"They agreed. I thought the Lord wanted me to do this just one time," McCarty said.
The next year, another man needed help; the event drew more people and more money.
After doing the fundraiser for about eight years, with his business picking up the tab, McCarty said it was too much.
"This one Saturday we were getting ready for it. I told my wife that was going to be the last one."
That evening, three business friends called, offering to chip in to help cover the cost.
"I think it was a clear signal" from God, McCarty said.
The Stafford church provided all the labor for the cooking and cleanup, and along the way other businesses stepped up to help.
A few years ago, Friendship Baptist Church ended its participation, though many of its members continue to help out under the direction of Fairview Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, and its Fairview at River Club affiliate in Spotsylvania County. Friendship Baptist Church closed last year.
Art Blankenship, with Fairview Baptist Church, says the oyster roast is a big undertaking: about 120 volunteers do the preparation, transportation, cooking, serving and cleanup. Boy Scouts, the Stafford rescue squad and Sheriff's Office also lend a hand.
"This is really a community event," said Blankenship, who, along with another man, helps McCarty choose a recipient for the money raised.
Last year, with the help of local philanthropist Doris Buffett, the oyster roast raised about $50,000 for a blind King George County girl.
There were four candidates for the money this year.
"We go meet with the people nominated, and we do a selection," based on prayer, and the candidate's physical and financial needs, Blankenship said.
McCarty said a few hundred people showed up for the first gathering. Over the years, "I would dare say 28,000 to 30,000 people have been fed."
It has raised $668,000, to date.
Diners, McCarty said, "can put in a dollar, a hundred dollars, whatever. Every cent goes to that person" being helped.
He's not sure how long the oyster roast will go on, but says his son wants it to continue.
As for McCarty, it will be "however long the Lord wants me to do it."
Dominic Beltran has been fighting neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer that affects the nervous system, since he was 17 months old.
He receives care from a team of specialists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and has endured rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. For a short time, he was declared cancer-free.
He has since relapsed twice, and started a treatment given only at his hospital in New York. His mother, Margaret, resigned from her job to travel back and forth with him. The loss of income, travel costs and unreimbursed medical bills have prevented the family from keeping up with their monthly expenses, and precluded recommended therapy for one of Dominic's brothers.
WHO: White Oak Equipment, Fairview Baptist ChurchWHAT: 28th Annual Benefit Oyster Roast WHEN: Saturday, March 3, at 3 p.m. WHERE: 358 King's Highway, State Route 3 East in Stafford County. DETAILS: The menu is the same each year: fried and steamed oysters, hot dogs, coleslaw, chips and homemade desserts. A donation is requested. All event expenses are covered by local businesses.