Family gives back to St. Jude with fundraising dinner each year; this year it’s Sunday

Published 12:49 am Friday, August 10, 2018

NATCHEZ — One Natchez family benefitted so much from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis 13 years ago that they have been committed to helping fund the facility by holding a benefit dinner each year for the past 12 years.

Julia Eidt was diagnosed with a little-known form of leukemia 13 years ago during the same week Hurricane Katrina hit, her father Wray Eidt said.

The Eidt family lived in Jackson at the time, he said, but when their daughter went to St. Jude in Memphis, Wray and his wife, Jennifer, moved to Memphis for approximately six months while Julia underwent treatment.

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“She has been in remission ever since,” Wray said.

Both Wray and Jennifer were so impressed with treatment their daughter received at St. Jude they decided to do something to benefit the hospital.

Wray and Jennifer are originally from Natchez and their family members and friends in Natchez wanted to help with the St. Jude benefit.

Wray said people donated silent auction items and John Holyoak, manager of Dunleith Plantation, offered up space in the Castle Restaurant and staff members volunteered to help, Wray said.

The first St. Jude Dinner fundraiser event was held a year after Julia’s diagnosis in August 2006.

“It caught on,” Wray said, noting that a nice silver platter was among the silent auction items that first year and family friends Joe and Bobbie Smith came up with the idea of having the name of whomever purchased the platter etched onto the platter and then re-auctioned every year. The platter would then be turned over to Julia when she turns 18.

Wray said he recalls the platter sold for between $200 and $300 that first year and last year the platter sold for $5,000.

“She’s 15 now,” Wray said, adding Julia is still healthy and returns to St. Jude every year for complete check ups. “In three years she will get it (the platter).”

That does not mean, however, the Wrays will give up the annual fundraiser that has now raised more than $300,000 — $50,000 last year alone — for the St. Jude Children’s Research Center.

“It’s so humbling to have so many people come together doing this for St. Jude,” Wray said. “Julia is well now, but Jennifer and I have three or four friends who’ve had kids with cancer and this is for those kids who keep getting diagnosed. After Julia gets the platter . . . we’ll figure something out when it comes to that. So, it’s for the 40 other children who keep getting diagnosed.”

Wray said St. Jude’s is a one-of-kind place with brilliant physicians who have knowledge beyond others to treat cancer in children.

“To have a place so close by that is world-renown and dedicated to pediatric cancer, and you don’t have to pay anything,” Wray said. “It’s not just a medical center, it’s a mecca for the world to send kids.

“It’s a miracle center,” Wray said.

This year’s St. Jude Dinner will be 6 p.m. Sunday at Dunleith Plantation’s Castle Restaurant.

The event consists of 100-percent donations, everything from the facility, to staffing, food and auction items, including this year: trips to the beach, New Orleans, The Alluvian, Beau Rivage, a lake house and tickets to LSU football games, tickets to New Orleans Saints football games, art, ladies packages, dine around packages, private dinner parties and of course the silver platter.

The cost of the dinner is $65 and includes a four-course meal with beer and wine pairings. Checks are written directly to St. Jude, and the event begins at 6 p.m. Sunday with a live auction conducted by Rusty Jenkins.

For more information call Castle Restaurant at 601-446-8500. A $65 donation check written to St Jude is required for the dinner as well as reservations. Seating is limited.