Evanston small businesses unite in raffle fundraiser supporting Everytown for Gun Safety Evanston businesses fundraise for Everytown for Gun Safety
Illustration by Olivia Abeyta
Content warning: This story contains mentions of gun violence.
When Highland Park resident and gun violence prevention activist Stephanie Luger heard the first gunshots at the town’s Fourth of July parade, she thought they were fireworks. Then, she saw everyone running.
Luger made it safely to her car and said she was glad her children were running late to the event.
“How do you make anyone feel safe after that?” Luger said. “It’s this underlying sense of, ‘I’m not safe anywhere anymore.’ If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.”
Evanston resident Cait Rechel understood the feeling. As the owner of small business Pure Barre and a mother of three, she said she wanted to see legislation preventing gun violence.
Rechel decided to host a raffle fundraiser throughout August benefiting Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocating for gun control and against gun violence. She said she hoped at least 10 Evanston small businesses would donate goods and services for which community members could purchase raffle tickets.
But the raffle has far surpassed that goal, receiving nearly $4,000 worth of goods donated from a list of 35 businesses and growing, Rechel said. The raffle also raised almost $1,000 in ticket sales during the first three days. Residents can purchase raffle tickets in person at Rechel’s store or through its Venmo.
“The event blew up in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” Rechel said. “We are kind of flying by the seat of our pants.”
The goods range from restaurant gift cards and skin care products to flower bouquets and a year of coffee delivery, Rechel said. She said she believes the enthusiasm for the raffle stems from a place of urgency.
Rechel described a sense of hopelessness she felt in the community in the wake of Highland Park and recent Evanston shootings.
“It’s really easy, when (a mass shooting) happens somewhere far away, to separate ourselves,” Rechel said. “The mass shooting being so close to home has really impacted a lot of people and opened our eyes to how realistic of a problem it is.”
Evanston resident Gabrielle Walker said she remembers when incidents of gun violence were far less common than they are now.
As the owner of small business 4 Suns Fresh Juice, Walker said participating in the raffle gave her a chance to simultaneously promote her business and advocate for the removal of assault rifles.
“(Rechel’s) doing something extraordinary,” Walker said. “It’s a twofold piece that is all about empowerment, and that’s one reason why I decided to step up and be a part of it. It allows all of us to lift and empower our small businesses to continue to exist and thrive.”
For years, Luger said, she was passionate about getting rid of assault rifles. In Moms Demand Action, an organization under Everytown for Gun Safety, she found a group of like-minded parents who wanted to reduce gun violence.
She created a website called Advocates for Change that curates resources for those who want to get involved but don’t know where to start.
“The fact that there’s shootings in elementary schools is just unbelievable,” Luger said. “I have little kids and it’s impossible to explain. It doesn’t make sense why our government cannot protect us.”
Weinberg sophomore Mirabella Johnson co-created Students Demand Action, the NU chapter of Everytown for Gun Safety. Given the daily gun violence occurrences in the US and her direct experience with it in high school, she said she was disappointed when she found out NU didn’t have a chapter.
Seeing the Evanston small business community support the raffle has given Johnson hope that change will come. It is representative of how powerful the movement is and how community members can care for one another during divisive times, she said.
Walker agreed and said the community support did not surprise her.
“That’s one thing that makes Evanston unique and special,” Walker said. “We live in a very tight-knit community, and we usually step up to a call to take action.”
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