Saturday night’s event encompassed three AJ’s seafood restaurant locations in Okaloosa County and came about as a result of 10-year-old Abigayle Sweeney’s letter to the editor at The Daily News sharing her concerns about homelessness.
DESTIN — It would take a lot more than a day of rain to sidetrack the movement Abigayle Sweeney created in the last month.
The 10-year-old from Liza Jackson Preparatory School kicked off a wave of giving back in the community with a letter to the editor of The Daily News. It came to encompass her classmates and teachers, who put together donations for the Sharing & Caring food bank on Beal Parkway.
It also brought in three AJ's seafood restaurants in Okaloosa County on Saturday night, with each committed to donating 10% of proceeds from food sales to Sharing & Caring.
Abigayle's father, Michael, has been a bartender at AJ's for more than 20 years — "Being a bartender that long will teach you a lot of patience," he said — and Saturday, Michael worried that Abigayle's spirits might be dampened by the weather affecting the turnout.
The family went and ate at the location in Destin.
"I think she was a little upset that the weather wasn't that good," Michael said. "But what we told her, and what she understood really quickly, was that it didn’t matter. It's cool because it got everybody thinking about donating and giving back and the people that work (at AJ's) came over and donated some money, and they're like family."
And leave it to Abigayle to take what could've been a disappointment, with the weather, and flip it on its head.
"I thought it still seemed like it turned out good," she said. "And it wasn't just one AJ's, it was all of the restaurants that were doing it. So if each one of them just made a little bit, like $100 or $200, then that's great. And the AJ's workers came over and donated, and my family did, too. And I think that's great."
The process of giving back and the work that went into it has been as important as anything for the Sweeneys. Abigayle's letter was prompted by her aunt's own struggle with homelessness, which she managed to overcome with the help of Michael and Abigayle's mom, Penney.
"I think this whole thing has just brought us together even more, as a family, it's made us all rally around each other," Michael said. "I think the whole thing has been therapeutic, especially for Penney. It's a lot of things you really don't talk about as a family, and I think it's been weird for some of us but it's out there and we have to talk about it and deal with it and I think that's a good thing."
Now, it's Christmas. And, like any 10-year-old, Abigayle has an item at the top of her wish list.
She wants a "Toilet Paper Blaster Sheet Storm" — essentially a gigantic spitball machine that incorporates a roll of toilet paper and a water container as ammunition, firing gigantic, wet, wads of paper in every direction.
It's pretty much any kid's dream. And what kids a generation ago would've called a straw and some wet notebook paper.
"I want the gun, but I would be happy with a straw," Abigayle said with a smile. "Because I think I might still be able to hit my dad's forehead."
"Sounds like kind of a mess," Michael said, laughing.