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North Penn PAL Planning Fanatical Fundraiser for Leukemia Patient

The North Penn Police Activities League is in the early planning stages of a fundraiser full of flair to benefit 13-year-old Matthew Knoebel, of Lansdale. Early ideas include an Old Navy-sponsored fashion show and a cops vs. kids basketball game

An Old Navy-sponsored fashion show, a "cops vs. kids" Round Robin basketball tournament, a half-court shot contest, a silent auction, Chase Utley autographs, North Penn and Lansdale Catholic sports team volunteers, raffles, hot dogs, sumo fat suit wrestling.

Putting the chief of police in a dunk tank.

On Wednesday afternoon, 10 people from various professional backgrounds filled a room inside Towamencin Township Municipal Complex with these ideas and more, all to benefit one boy.

It was a special meeting of the young North Penn Police Activities League and family members of 13-year-old Lansdale resident Matthew Knoebel. Knoebel was there in thought — he is awaiting a bone marrow transplant at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, having just finished another round of chemo in his fight with acute myeloid leukemia.

The Penndale eighth-grader is the subject of an April 27 fundraiser, organized by North Penn PAL. Wednesday afternoon two members of Knoebel's family — aunt Kellie Roggio, of Upper Gwynedd and mother Christina Simpson's fiance Tom Coughlin — began to develop an idea of the what, when, and how for the benefit.

The why was easy.

"We put the feelers out and the PAL community jumped right on it," said North Penn PAL Executive Director and Board Vice President Greg O'Brien. "They said this is what we want to do: support a particular youth of the community who is in need right now."

He said he's never been involved in a community organization where everybody jumped on it immediately and without reservations.

"(Towamencin Officer) Pat Horne, who is one of our key people in the PAL organization, had flagged it, seeing multiple articles in newspaper about fundraising events about Matthew," he said. "He gave me a call, we talked to the chief, and he thought it was an absolutely great idea."

O'Brien said the date is set: April 27. Fortunately, it doesn't coincide with the International Spring Festival, occurring a week earlier.

The place, per North Penn School District: Penndale Middle School's gymnasium.

The time is being negotiated, but an 11 a.m. start is likely.

"We want to be able to not run it for too long, but we want time for people to come in, talk, meet others, and schedule a game," said O'Brien.

The initial idea is for the fundraiser to have a cops versus youth basketball game. The PAL is tossing around the idea of a Round Robin format.

"We could split the court, have a Round Robin of three-on-three," suggested PAL Board Member and Abington Health-Lansdale Hospital Human Resources Manager John Clarkin. "We can pick the final two teams and the winner plays the police."

Clarkin also suggested a half-court shooting contest as another way to make money.

"We could go to school varsity teams. They'd love to show up the cops," said PAL Board Member Reeves Miller.

Throughout the day, there would be raffles, 50/50 and a silent auction. Don't forget hot dogs.

Furthermore, Old Navy in Airport Square in Montgomeryville has thrown its support behind Knoebel.

For Old Navy, its charity will begin at its Community Day event at its location on March 2, complete with bake sale and appearances by local businesses and agencies like Theraplay and North Penn YMCA. 

Montgomeryville Old Navy Assistant Store Manager of Service and Operations Aisha Jones, Towamencin Police booking technician Kelly Palermo, and PAL Executive Board Secretary and Towamencin Police specialist C.J. Yoder came up with an early plan for a fashion show featuring Old Navy apparel. Old Navy could get customers to sign up young models for the runway, and Old Navy would supply the merchandise.

"We need something to draw the girls in as well," said Palermo. 

There's also a chance for some Old Navy gift card giveaways and prizes too, Jones said. Old Navy has 77 associates, she said: She could place a sign-up sheet at the store to collect names for the game at a nominal donation.

"Old Navy can be a source of revenue and a sponsor," she said.

O'Brien expects volunteerism to grow over the next couple of weeks.

"It looks like we'll have a pretty good amount of volunteers," said O'Brien. "I spoke to a couple of youth sports organizations: Lansdale Little League, Hatfield, TYA, Nor-Gwyn, Montgomery Township. I'd like to get them involved with what's going on."

O'Brien said there is interest from seniors in the Lansdale Catholic men's lacrosse team to respond with volunteer efforts.

"They want to do a community services thing," O'Brien said, whose son plays on the team. "If they get involved, it's helping out, picking up, clean up."

O'Brien said he has also reached out to various professional athletes with local ties. He plans to speak to Towamencin resident, Abington native and retired Phillie Gene Schall, who at present scouts for the MLB for the Northeast United States.

"Matt likes Chase Utley? I'll ask if Chase can do something for Matt," O'Brien said. "We'll also see if we can get some auction items."

With the event two months away, O'Brien said there is enough time to put everything together.

"Let's get a theme out so we're all on the same page," he said. "It's open for discussion. We want to have a great time, a great day."

Simpson told the North Penn PAL that its direction was great. 

"Especially the raffles," she said. "We tend to get a lot of donations through raffles."

Knoebel has found help, fundraising and support from all facets of the community. This month, . The money came from a special hoagie sale that the department put together just for Knoebel.

Family, friends and local businesses have already organized a successful pancake breakfast fundraiser at Applebee's in Hatfield, a bake sale up the street from his Poplar Street home, and an American Cross blood drive and bone marrow registration at Corpus Christi Church in Upper Gwynedd.

Coughlin informed the North Penn PAL that, as of Wednesday, a bone marrow transplant is a go for March 21. It would have been sooner, but the donor, he said, had to rearrange his schedule.

"We're not sure how long he will be in the hospital. Maybe until the end of April. Either way, he will not be able to attend," Coughlin said. "Getting family and friends there will not be an issue."

Simpson said Knoebel could view the event and talk with people via Skype, as he did at the pancake fundraiser.

The planned basketball game would rely on the number of PAL members and officers involved in the event. PAL members are 11- to 18-year-old boys and girls from the North Penn School District region.

"Maybe we could have a couple of games," O'Brien said. "A couple of games for each age group."

PAL Executive Board President and Towamencin Township Chief Tim Dickinson suggested reaching out to members first via email to let them have first dibs on the benefit game.

There was talk of using the second gym at Penndale for other activities.

Clarkin and Miller said they could man the hot dog stand. The PAL is planning on contacting area restaurants and food vendors to seek interests in donating toward the event. 

"We need to be reaching out to sponsors now," O'Brien said. "Outside of any expenses, all of it will go back to the family."

Clarkin then reminded the group to make sure the event has a major revenue stream. O'Brien added that would be supported via 50/50s and a silent auction.

"The key is to get businesses to financially contribute," O'Brien said. "We want to raise funds. We could say the goal is $10,000, $20,000. It's all going to be based on generosity." 

Coughlin was left nearly speechless after the initial meeting. 

"These guys and girls on the police departments put their lives on the line every day for the whole community, and now they want to take the time out of their own personal lives to help a community member in need," he said. "All aspects from the community — be it Old Navy or the hospital — are coming together with all kinds of great ideas, from a basketball game to a fashion show, to help Matt for this fight with leukemia." 

Simpson appreciated the amount of effort being put into the event so that it can be a success.

"And it's all for Matthew," she said. "Matthew will be very excited, and I think Matthew and Chrissy will be grateful. He is very appreciative of everything."

Have a way to help in the benefit? Want to volunteer? Contact the North Penn PAL at staff@northpennpal.org or O'Brien at 215-872-3420. Like its Facebook page here and visit its website here.

The North Penn PAL organized and incorporated in Summer 2012. It needs more youth memberships, and joining North Penn PAL is free. You can download and fill out the required Guardian Permission Form and ID Card Application. Forms can be emailed to the address above or dropped off at the Towamencin Township Police Department.

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