When doctors diagnosed 11-year-old Preston Gentry with Leukemia three months ago, his mother knew it would mean around-the-clock care.
Sara Gentry quit after 10 years with Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort to care for her son, and this holiday season friends and former colleagues came together to raise money to get the family through Christmas.
Saturday night at The Bluffs Grill and Tap was one of their busiest ever, according to co-owner Justin Huffaker. But police say thousands of dollars in donations went into the pockets of thieves and they're searching for suspects.
The Bluffs co-owner Justin Huffaker says last Saturday was their busiest night ever as supporters of Preston and former colleagues of Sara packed the bar for a fundraiser.
Huffaker estimates about 400 people attended and raised nearly $3,000 for the Gentry family.
Preston was diagnosed with cancer three months ago and has just wrapped up his first phase of treatment which has meant regular treks to East Tennessee Children's Hospital in Knoxville from their home in Sevierville. The fundraiser was supposed to help Sara get Preston and her three other children through the holidays.
"With four kids and Christmas, it would mean a lot," said Sara. "I was kind of counting on it.
But sometime after the bar closed Saturday night, police say burglars entered the building through the attic, dropped cinder blocks through the ceiling, and raided The Bluffs of the tubs of cash set out for Preston.
"To take something that his community came together in support of a little kid that has no control over anything in life right now- it's just bad. Sickening," said Huffaker, whose business also lost an additional $15,000 in cash and tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
Sara says it hurts her to think of her friends' wasted generosity, but her child's cancer diagnosis has revealed hidden blessings.
"That's one thing about cancer, it makes you realize how much people care," said Gentry.
And although the cash is gone, Preston says he's encouraged by the community's support.
The former football and basketball player is mostly home-bound these days, but he says he loves reading messages of support on a Facebook page established by a friend.
"It makes me feel like people care," said Preston.
And Huffaker says they're hoping to show Preston even more support and another fundraiser at The Bluffs to be held on December 21st.