Watertown came together two years ago to help 5-year-old MJ Harris fight off a brain tumor, and now they’re ready to do it again.
With Harris’ brain surgery set for July 8, the community organized a yard sale at 215 E. Main St. that began Friday and will continue until dark on Saturday. The end goal is to raise $6,000 to send the family on a vacation to Gatlinburg before the procedure.
“He has what’s called a JPA tumor,” MJ’s mother Lacee Harris said. “It’s a rare tumor that occurs in children, and his first one was removed in 2018. At first we thought he had a concussion, and it was just a whirlwind because everything happened so fast. This time around we’ve had more time to prepare.”
According to the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, JPA tumors are unlikely to spread and have a high recovery rate. However, the medical and travel expenses can still add up.
“They were able to remove it all last time, but if they can’t the next step is chemotherapy and radiation,” Lacee Harris said. “Watertown helped out a lot last time and paid for about half of it.”
Community members Sherri Clodfelter-Brockman and Tina Goode are heading up the fundraiser and decided on a yard sale because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Immediately when we heard, we knew we had to do something,” Brockman said. “We were originally planning a yard sale for the Santa’s Elves fundraiser to bring kids Christmas presents, so we decided to go with that.”
Brockman and Goode then took to social media to spread the word, and were able to bring in item donations from hundreds of Watertown residents. The two plan to continue hosting sales each weekend until the items are gone, with all proceeds going toward the Harris family.
“We have something to decorate any room in your house, and we have clothing in any size for children and adults,” Goode said. “Really, everybody in the community has contributed in some way.”
Donations range from figurines, board games and DVDs to fresh fishing bait, furniture and electronics. Businesses have also pitched in, with Domino’s offering gift cards and Barrett’s Barber Shop donating items for a silent auction expected to follow the yard sale.
“We’re also selling #MJstrong T-shirts in Watertown colors online,” Brockman said. “They’re $20, and an anonymous donor paid $500 for the shirts so all the proceeds can go back to MJ’s family.”
Brockman estimated that 75 people had stopped by during the first three hours of the sale alone, and that the community would likely raise $3,000 from the first day.
Among those contributing to the effort was Watertown resident Joan Bowes, who said she was on the lookout for anything she could buy to help MJ.
“I go to the public library and Pam Wiggins, the librarian, told me about the little boy,” she said. “It’s wonderful that the community can put together something like this … we love Watertown.”
Word also spread through the local schools, and Watertown High School rising senior Isaac Stutts helped gather boxes full of items to donate.
“My mom’s a teacher, so that’s how I heard,” he said. “I’m out here today to help the community out, and I’m looking for anything I can find a good deal on.”
With the community’s help, Lacee Harris is confident her son can make it through his latest challenge.
“He struggled more mentally than physically from the tumor in 2018,” she said, noting that it was a stressful time for him. “He struggled with anger issues and just wasn’t himself until a little over a year ago. It feels like we finally turned a corner only to have to deal with this again.”
The family hopes a vacation to Gatlinburg will help MJ relax and have fun before his surgery, and any additional proceeds will help fund medical and travel expenses.
“We’re hoping to go next weekend and do whatever MJ would like,” Lacee Harris said. “The following weekend is the Fourth of July, and MJ is going to be the grand marshal in the city’s parade. It makes me really emotional to see all the support we’ve been getting.”