St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has always been one of Leon Swihart's favorite charities.
"We are very fortunate to have St. Jude near our communities. They do a great work for children worldwide. I realized recently that it had been some time since I had held a fund-raiser for St. Jude and I decided to have a 30-day produce sale with all the money going to St. Jude in memory of Danny Thomas, the founder," Swihart said. "Now is the time when many people have excess produce."
Swihart recently purchased an antique trailer that caught his eye. He has placed the trailer at the front of Swihart Peach Orchard shed located on Highway 77 east of Leachville. He has asked anyone that has excess vegetables or fruit to place it on the trailer and it will be sold with all of the money going to St. Jude.
Swihart places peaches and pecans on the trailer daily. He pointed out that it does not have to be large quantities of items.
"We have had three or four watermelons and cantaloupes, pickles, hot peppers, bell peppers, peaches, pecans, plums, corn and squash donated. We even had some home-baked cookies donated. Hopefully tomatoes and cucumbers will be ready for harvesting and we will have even a larger variety of produce. We don't set a price. There is a box at the trailer and anyone that gets produce from the St. Jude trailer can make any size donation they can," Swihart said.
In the first week $10 to $85 a day was raised. At the end of the fund-raiser, Swihart plans to hand deliver a certified check to St. Jude for every penny that was donated.
It takes $715,000 a day for St. Jude to operate. The late entertainer Danny Thomas founded St. Jude 40 years ago fulfilling a promise that he had made during the depression. The facility treats about 160 patients every day on an outpatient basis and maintains 56 inpatient beds. It is the first institution established for the sole purpose of conducting basic and clinical research into catastrophic childhood diseases, mainly cancer, and it is the largest childhood cancer research center in the world in terms of the number of patients enrolled. Since St. Jude opened in 1962, it has treated about 18,750 children from across the Untied States and 60 foreign countries.
"They do not charge the kids, they never turn anyone away and there are some great success stories. They have even furnished airplane tickets to get children to Memphis for treatments. They make sure the families have a place to stay and food to eat. We can't do anything by ourselves but together a lot can be done," Swihart said. "St. Jude treats everyone first class."
Leachville still holds the record for the most expensive watermelon ever grown at $10,100. The watermelon was sold one slice at a time with the proceeds going to St. Jude. Also a box supper was held for St. Jude raising $10,000. There have been a lot of $3,000 to $5,000 fund-raisers in the area.
"That is quite a bit from our small communities," Swihart said.
Swihart recalls a chance meeting that he and his dad, Johnny Swihart, had with the late Danny Thomas almost 20 years ago. The Swiharts were walking around the facility shortly after the dedication of the Gold Dome building at St. Jude when they saw that Thomas was still there.
"We got to talk to him and pictures were taken. I think it is odd that the two men, my dad and Danny Thomas, met and shook hands only one time and died on the same day, both with heart complications."