Friends rally to help Eric at benefit

Published 12:13 am Sunday, April 8, 2012

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Matthew Fontenot talks to Kim Falkenheiner, left, and Mary Kay Doherty, right, after they donated a dollar to him for the woman-less beauty pageant Fontenot was competing in during the fundraiser for Eric Barbato Saturday evening on the Vidalia riverfront.

NATCHEZ — “It’s what he would do for me” was the resounding theme Saturday at the fundraiser to help Natchez resident Eric Barbato.

Barbato lost everything he owned in a February house fire, and had to spend a month in a hospital intensive burn unit. Rather than wish him the best of luck and letting him struggle on his own, Barbato’s friends rallied around him. Saturday, that meant buying items at a silent auction, jumping in a moon bounce, eating chicken dinners and crawfish, ogling a womanless beauty pageant and rocking out to local bands on the Vidalia riverfront.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Eric Barbato, left, talks to his sister Pam as her boyfriend Tony Escamilla looks on during his fundraiser Saturday evening on the Vidalia riverfront. Barbato lost his home in a house fire in Feb., and has been recovering from burns from the fire.

Event Organizer Teddi Jones said she knows how expensive hospital stays can be, so every penny she could help raise to help Barbato was a penny well spent.

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“We know Eric isn’t from here and doesn’t have any family here, so we decided to put this together to help him — and we know he would do it for us,” Jones said.

Another of Barbato’s friends, Linda Dunn, agreed.

“We did all this because if I was in Eric’s place, if it had been me, he would do it for me,” she said.

The organizers said that as word spread about the Barbato benefit, the community seemed to coalesce around the cause.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Cody Allen waves at the crowd as Rose Temple places his sash on him after being named queen of the Miss River Barge woman-less beauty pageant Saturday during the fundraiser for Eric Barbato.

“A lady called and said she had all this new furniture she didn’t need, so she gave him a whole new living room suite and kitchen suite,” Dunn said.

That furniture donation led to more generosity from the community, said Eric’s sister, Pam Barbato, who came from California for the event.

“Someone gave my brother new furniture, and we were at breakfast talking about it and a lady overheard us and came over and said, ‘I have a trailer, do you need help?’” Pam Barbato said. “I think it is amazing that so many people have stepped up like this for my brother.”

The bands that played the event volunteered their time, Dunn said, and one person who stopped by for a chicken dinner plate paid $100 for a $7 plate. She said the cause even went viral, and after reading about the benefit online, a man from California donated $500 to the event.

Eric Barbato was able to attend some of the events, but had to leave to rest.

Those who want to find out how they can help can contact event organizer Rebecca Carlton at 318-719-0768.