GARDNERVILLE -- With enough spaghetti to feed an army of 700, friends and family of a little girl suffering from an inoperable brain tumor were flabbergasted by the turnout at a fund-raiser this week that left the pasta dish empty and the collection plate overflowing.
An estimated 1,500 people converged on St. Gall Catholic Community Center in Gardnerville raising more than $22,000 -- twice as much as their expectations -- for tiny Haley Vana, 3, of Minden.
"We don't really have words to describe what this means to our family," said Haley's dad, Ron Vana. "We hope we are able to give everyone good news. This shows that people make a difference."
Vana, whose wife Lin and 1-year-old son Heston are in Houston with Haley for treatment not covered by the family's insurance, attended the Wednesday evening event with his 14-year-old daughter Amanda.
"It was incredible," Amanda said of the turnout. "It's amazing what people can do when they really want to."
Vana said its difficult to see his daughter's picture taped to donation buckets in shops, but he's so grateful for the way the community has rallied around the family.
"I got up on stage to say 'Thank you' a couple of times and I managed to cry only once," he said warmly. "I only wish I could thank every single person."
The family learned of Haley's condition two months ago, after their middle child began having spasms in her hand. Vana said initially the family didn't notice, but when the spasms went from once a month to twice a day, they knew something was wrong.
Vana said doctors told him there are three ways to treat the tumor, but because of its location, their best option -- surgery -- was ruled out. Because of her age, radiation would have to be in such small doses it didn't seem successful. Vana said the family opted for a clinical trial treatment not covered by insurance.
In addition to the medical costs, the family is strapped with the costs of airfare and the loss of a second income while Lin Vana, a science and Spanish teacher at Carson Valley Middle School, spends every moment by her daughter's side.
Debbie Posnien, pastoral associate of St. Gall Catholic Church, said the church has been collecting donations for the Vanas for a few weeks. They have already given the family $10,000 they collected in Haley's name.
She said Wednesday's turnout was shocking.
"Almost unbelievable," she said. "And the donations are still coming in. I just had a man from Sparks walk in who said he couldn't make it to the dinner but wanted to donate and he gave us $50. And I have $10,000 in donations on my desk for them right now."
Jody Wass, of Carson Valley Middle School, along with Allison Whybrew, Sandy Gervais and Karen Green, were among the dozens, including a cache of students, who organized the fund-raiser.
"Every time I turned around I just got goose bumps," Wass said of the scores of people who poured into the center. "It was incredibly fabulous support from not only (Minden/Gardnerville) but Carson and Reno, too."
"The turnout was incredible. It shows why places like this are unique," Vana said. "I grew up in a big city and I doubt if we were in a city of 4 million the reaction would have been as great."
Wass said the news of Haley's illness stunned everyone.
"The whole entire CVMS population really wanted to do what they could for this family," she said. "At least this was turning our sadness into a positive energy."
You Can Help
Walk in to any Nevada State Bank branch and tell teller you want to donate to "Friends of Haley"