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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Town gathers to support ill third-grader and her family

Rachael Johnson, a third-grader at Ponderosa Elementary, has been hospitalized with E. coli and giardiasis. A fund-raiser held in Rosalia has raised more than $9,000 to help her family with expenses.
 (Courtesy of family / The Spokesman-Review)
Rachael Johnson, a third-grader at Ponderosa Elementary, has been hospitalized with E. coli and giardiasis. A fund-raiser held in Rosalia has raised more than $9,000 to help her family with expenses. (Courtesy of family / The Spokesman-Review)
Ayisha S. Yahya Staff writer

In a small town, one person’s hardship becomes everyone’s responsibility.

After residents in Rosalia heard that the 8-year-old granddaughter of one their volunteer firefighters was ill, they immediately set about seeking donations – and the girl’s family didn’t even ask them to.

Rachael Johnson got E. coli during a trip to Seaside, Ore. The girl, whose father lives in Spokane Valley and her mother in Spokane, is in third grade at Ponderosa Elementary School.

Johnson’s grandparents live in Rosalia, where the population is about 600. On Wednesday, supporters in the rural community had a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser, raffle sale and auction for Johnson at the Rosalia Elementary and High School, raising $8,300.

“That’s pretty good for a small town for one night,” said Tina Coe, owner of Tina’s Cuttin’ Corral.

Coe said donations of all kinds started streaming in after a group of people talked about the little girl’s illness on the sidewalk one day.

“Basically it was a street conversation,” Coe said. “It ballooned from there … There was nothing organized about it.”

Overall more than $9,000 has been raised, and checks are still coming in, Coe said.

Johnson, whose kidneys failed, was in the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital intensive care unit for 10 days and spent a few more days in the hospital before returning home on Tuesday. She had also been diagnosed with giardiasis, a diarrheal condition caused by an intestinal parasite.

Spokane Regional Health District Health Officer Kim Thorburn said there is no current outbreak of E. coli in the area.

“We see tons of cases each year … we see it most commonly as single cases,” Thorburn said.

Johnson had been sick for almost two weeks before she was admitted to the hospital, her mother Jennifer Trull said.

“The department of health is still looking into how she got it,” Trull said, adding that the girl has a few more medical appointments to determine when she can go back to school. Because she had been sick for so long, the girl missed the start of the school year and Trull said it may take six to eight weeks before she is fully recovered.

“She wasn’t getting any nutrition, she was throwing everything up,” Trull said. “She’s doing much better (now); her kidneys are starting to function.”

While the family does have insurance, Trull said she has no idea how much all the medical costs will add up to considering the days her daughter spent in hospital and the battery of tests she went through.

Trull said she knew nothing of the planned fund-raiser in Rosalia until a few days before it happened. However, she said, Rosalia’s people always look out for one another.

“Everyone knows everyone,” she said. “That’s the advantage of growing up in a small town.”

Coe said area residents have helped raise money for different causes before whether it’s an illness or death or a school trip.

“Everyone pulls together,” Coe said. “It doesn’t matter who it is; even new people. You make them feel welcome.”

Everything for the spaghetti dinner and auction was donated. Every business in town gave something and local restaurants sent their staff to help cook, Coe said. Word spread quickly to neighboring communities Colfax and St. John, and people there, too, sent donations for the auction.

Coe said Johnson’s grandfather, Larry Trull, has been a volunteer firefighter in the town for many years and helping his family only seems fitting.

“For years, the man has saved a lot of lives,” Coe said. In fact, many of those who helped put together the fund-raiser were Jennifer Trull’s old schoolmates.

In this informal way of pooling together, the people never really set goals of how much they want to raise, Coe said.

“Whatever we got is more than we had yesterday,” Coe said.

Donations are still being accepted at the Spokane Valley, Banner Bank branch on 1521 N. Argonne Road.

But even though people always look out for one another, Trull is still astounded by the outpouring of generosity for her daughter.

“It’s all unbelievable,” Trull said.

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