Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate a Kansas City restaurant that was destroyed in an explosion at a benefit for its former employees.
More than 1,200 people attended the benefit Tuesday for JJ's restaurant, a Country Club Plaza restaurant destroyed Feb. 19 by the explosion. One employee was killed and 15 other people were injured.
The money raised Tuesday night will not only help JJ's restaurant employees displaced by the explosion and fire that happened two weeks ago, it will also help a new scholarship fund established in Megan Cramer's name, the only employee who did not make it out of the restaurant alive.
About three dozen restaurants contributed to Friends of JJ's Benefit and several Kansas City artists performed.
As preparations got under way for the Friends of JJ's Benefit, Uptown Theater filled up with bits and pieces of the world - an artist from Paris is donating a signed replica of a picture that once hung inside JJ's, and Royals players sent signed baseball bats from Spring Training in Arizona.
"It helps me move forward with my friends and colleagues from JJ's," volunteer Melanie Smiley said.
Smiley helped organize the silent auction.
"My husband and I, that's where we had date night every month and he works on the Plaza, so we went to JJ's, got to know everybody," she said. "It's like a family there, the bartender, the staff and even the regulars."
Early on in the day, upstairs VIP event space was coming together where Kansas City businesses donated alcohol and restaurants will provide food for the fundraiser.
"Pulling off an event of this magnitude in the short time that we started working on it has been amazing," JJ's Assistant General Manager Joe Avelluto said.
Avelluto said he believes the community is doing for them what JJ's would have done for any other restaurant family in need.
"I've been numb, been in a state of shock, sad, I've been extremely happy and fortunate to be around family of JJ's as well as friends," he said.
And, a day after friends and family said goodbye to the one employee who died in the explosion, a scholarship fund has been set up in Cramer's name. Those who put it together said it's a way to keep giving when all was taken away.
Owner Jimmy Frantze said he was overwhelmed by the response.
He has not said if he will rebuild the restaurant, because he is focused on getting employees the tools needed to heal emotionally, physically and mentally right now.
The fundraiser raised more than $50,000, but officials said that doesn't include the silent auction - the total raised in that will be announced in the next couple days.
There are still many unanswered questions about events leading up to the deadly explosion. Some of those questions may be answered when the fire department's initial report is released. The city said that should happen later this week.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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