PC residents give backPublished 6:04am Saturday, June 16, 2012
The theme of Thursday night’s screening of “I’m with Phil” can be summed up in one word: support.
The streams of people who filed into the Bevill Center at Northwest-Shoals Community College seemed to have one of two things on their mind: coming to support hometown filmmaker Andrew Reed and his award-winning documentary or coming to support hometown hero Phil Campbell from La Farge, Wisc., who put aside many personal needs to help a town who shared his name.
Reed said before the screening that the purpose of the event was originally to give the people who personally experienced the “I’m with Phil” phenomenon back in June of 2011 a chance to see the documentary before he started marketing it to film festivals across the country.
But when Reed discovered “Big Phil” from Wisconsin and his wife Deb, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, were having a tough time keeping up with medical bills to pay for her cancer treatments, he wanted to give the people of his hometown a chance to pay it forward and help someone who had so willingly helped them.
“I just felt an overwhelming obligation to make sure we did something for Big Phil,” Reed said, “and I knew the people of the town – after seeing Big Phil’s story in the documentary – would want to help him, too.
“His story is pretty prominent in the film, and even those who didn’t get a chance to know him while he was in Phil Campbell came away from the screening feeling like they did.”
Reed’s faith in the generosity of his town wasn’t unfounded. Person after person lined up after the screening to give money to help Big Phil in his time of need after he had helped them in their darkest hour.
Jeff and Stacey McCormick were overwhelmingly affected by the events that unfolded on April 27, 2011. Jeff McCormick’s daughter was injured in the tornado and his ex-wife, Amy LeClere, and her husband, Jay, were both killed, leaving behind their son, Garrett, who was five years old at the time.
Jeff and Stacey McCormick didn’t hesitate before deciding to take custody of Garrett and they have been there every step of the way to comfort and provide for him.
Jeff McCormick said the amount of love and support shown to their family in the days, weeks and months following the tornado outbreak was almost more than they could comprehend.
“So many people stepped up and showed their support and their love for us,” he said. “And then this group of Phils came into town and started helping and getting the word out that our little town was still there and we still needed help.”
“They didn’t know any of us,” Stacey McCormick added. “They didn’t have to come and help us, so that meant a lot to us personally and to the town that they came here.”
When they found out that Thursday’s screening was also going to serve as a benefit for one of the Phils who was going through a hard time, they once again knew what they wanted to do.
“There’s no question that we wanted to come help,” Jeff McCormick said. “After everything that was done for us, and after all this group did for us, of course we wanted to give back to one of them.”
The McCormicks’ view of helping those who have helped them was something almost every single person gathered in that auditorium shared.
Phil Campbell councilman Danny Brown said he was glad the residents of the town were given this opportunity to show how appreciative they are.
“It’s a wonderful thing that all the Phils got together so quickly to be a part of the relief efforts and that they showed such unity to pull our town back together,” he said. “What they did really touched a lot of people, and I’ve had so many of our residents tell me that they feel like it’s time to help someone else who is going through a hard time.”
Franklin County School Board member Terry Welborn, who represents Phil Campbell, said he actually met Big Phil when he was in town last June.
“Big Phil isn’t somebody you forget,” Welborn said. “I just loved him. He was so friendly and genuine and he had the best personality. He just fit right in with all of us.
“For him to come all the way from Wisconsin and be willing to sleep in his van just so he can help a town of strangers, that means a lot. I’m glad we have the opportunity to help him now that he needs it.”
Besides those who supported Big Phil, Reed had many supporters there of his own, such as friends, family and church members who have followed the documentary process from when it was just a budding idea back in early 2011.
“Andrew is one of my best friends, so it was no question that I would be here tonight to support him and the documentary,” Phil Campbell native Brad Hornsby said. “I think this film has the potential to be big and really get out the story of what happened here and how a group of people really made a difference.
“I actually met Big Phil and I think the documentary will help other people feel like they met him because it shows his story and how he really helped the town.
“Our town is so appreciative and now, because of this screening and this benefit, we have a chance to show people we’re not just sitting back and taking donations. We’re more than willing to help those that helped us.”