What was supposed to be a controlled, family-oriented fund-raiser capped at 5,500 attendees became a hectic free-for-all, with thousands more without tickets crowding the event at Amesbury Sports Park last Saturday.
“I learned about human nature,” said Grogan, who runs the charity that funds comforting therapies for pediatric cancer patients. “It’s kind of sad to see how people act in large groups.”
Grogan said 5,000 tickets were sold in advance for $5 each and 500 more were reserved for purchase at the gate, but those sold out quickly. She estimated that about 3,000 people came without tickets, which resulted in traffic back-ups on Interstate Route 495, parking chaos, and too few volunteers for the volume of guests wanting to get through the gates into the park.
There was such a long line of angry people at the gates — some with tickets and some without — that it was becoming a safety issue, so everyone was let in to ease the tension, Grogan said.
There were even a couple of calls to 911: After a helicopter dropped thousands of plastic eggs from the sky, Grogan said about 35 children were separated from their parents because of the overcrowding.
Grogan said she was sad to see some children put dozens of plastic eggs in their bags while others had none.
“They walked past kids who were crying because they had no eggs,” she said. “To me, that was the tragedy.”
Lucy’s Love Bus was created by Grogan’s daughter Lucy, who lost a battle with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 12 in 2006. Toward the end of her life, she made it her mission to promote soothing therapies for children with cancer. Since Lucy’s death, her mother has held fund-raisers to offer children $1,000 grants to pay for such things as massage, acupuncture, and art therapy.
However, Grogan said, she received an influx of “hateful” feedback, particularly through Facebook , that accused her of welcoming the extra attendees and endangering the welfare of those already there in an attempt to raise more money.
Grogan said that couldn’t be further from the truth, but she has issued many apologies through social media and e-mail.
“It didn’t hurt my feelings,” said Grogan, who added that she received many positive responses as well. “I was just so concerned that it would destroy this organization that my daughter created. The planning was beautiful for the right number of people.”
Grogan said that she looks at the experience as an opportunity to learn, and she even addressed problems during the event. When the first of two egg drops resulted in some upset, empty-handed kids, she took the microphone to remind the children that fairness is ultimately rewarded.
“I said ‘The Easter Bunny is here today, and he has close ties to Santa.’ They shared the second time.”
According to Eric A. Gregoire, Amesbury Mayor Thatcher W. Kezer’s chief of staff, the city and the sports park are usually prepared to handle large groups of people, with off-site parking available when needed.
“The event was so popular and so many people were interested in attending, it overwhelmed the event organizers,” said Gregoire, adding that some people who came weren’t aware there was an attendence limit or an admittance charge. “One of the steps we’ll be taking is to have an after-action [meeting] to discuss what we could’ve done differently.”
Despite the problems at Egg Drop-Palooza, the event raised $30,600, well beyond Grogan’s $20,000 goal and enough to sponsor 30 children for a year.
However, Grogan said that during the egg drop, she realized the nature of the activity doesn’t align with the Lucy’s Love Bus mission.
“It’s about greed. It’s about grabbing, pushing, shoving. It’s a complete mismatch for our organization,” said Grogan, who added that some missed that fact that the event was a fund-raiser. “They didn’t know anything about us, and you could tell. It was difficult for me to see, as Lucy’s mom.”
Grogan said the mishaps will not stop her from holding future events, a feeling that was only solidified when Lucy’s Love Bus received a $10,000 grant from the Expect Miracles Foundation last week.
“We had something go wrong, but in the end, people understand we’re a beautiful organization doing beautiful things,” she said. “This will help us grow.”