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Buy a rack and a bracelet: rib vendor sells wares to fundraise for autism nonprofits
by Sami Edge -- Special to the Tribune
Sep 01, 2013 | 2427 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John  Byrne - Aussom Aussie bbq owner Paul Mackay shows the Autism Awareness bracelets sold at his booth during the annual rib cook-off in sparks..
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Aussom Aussie bbq owner Paul Mackay shows the Autism Awareness bracelets sold at his booth during the annual rib cook-off in sparks..
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Paul Mackay is hard at work in his Aussom Aussie booth Friday morning at the rib cook-off.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Paul Mackay is hard at work in his Aussom Aussie booth Friday morning at the rib cook-off.
Ribs. Pulled pork sandwiches. Smoked beef brisket. Meat. Every year the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off draws thousands to downtown Sparks to partake in the fervent dual between barbeque masters, hashing it out to see who best prepares man’s most primitive culinary desire. But at one vendor’s stand, this year’s wares range beyond the typical variety of meats and t-shirts to include an item that might seem unusual for a food booth: colorful, rubber bracelets, bearing a simple message:

“Embrace Autism Today.”

Blake Mackay, son of Aussom Aussie Australian Barbeque Co. owner Paul Mackay, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism shortly before his second birthday. Thankfully, in Pennsylvania where Blake lives, an autism diagnosis comes with accompanying state-funded benefits and support tools, Paul says. But after becoming involved with autism awareness on a national level and witnessing the financial struggle endured by parents facing an autism diagnosis in less generous states, Paul decided to do what he could to help.

“In some states, an autism diagnosis is beneficial, and in others it’s detrimental because they don’t offer services,” Paul said. “We really just see the parents that were left out in the cold by the medical system and wanted to help.”

So, three years ago, Paul began using Aussom Aussie as a way to generate fundraising revenue for autism centered nonprofits. The vector: colorful, eye-catching bracelets, sold at three dollars a pop.

“Bracelets are an easy purchase. They’re something that people can wear with pride so that other people can notice,” Paul said of the bracelet campaign. “A T-shirt is something that people wear occasionally – but people can wear their bracelets every day, so that was kind of the reason behind it.”

During the past three years, Paul says the bracelets have brought in anywhere from two to five thousand dollars annually. In an effort to magnify the effect of the sales, Aussom Aussie foots the cost of bracelet production, as well as the shipping cost for wares bought online, which allows them to send 100 percent of bracelet proceeds to their selected nonprofit. In past years, recipients have included organizations like Chamber of Hope, a donation-dependent organization in Florida that works to help autistic patients, using hyperbaric oxygen treatments that stimulate neurons in the brain. Although the recipient of this year’s funds has yet to be chosen, Paul knows exactly what kind recipient he’s looking for: a community-based, dedicated organization, proven to help make a difference for the autistic and their families.

“We’re looking to provide kids the opportunity to learn how to cope. They’ll never be cured and they’ll always have to learn another way around things,” Paul said. “Part of our goal is to help Mom-and-Pop organizations that are struggling to really raise money.”

At this year’s Rib Cook-Off, Paul says the bracelets have seen surprising and unprecedented success.

“For some reason, it’s really caught on the last couple of days here … People heard about it and they want to support it,” he said. “Personally, for fundraising not being our core business, I think it’s a raging success.”

In addition to raising funds for a deserving non-profit, the bracelet sales allow the staff of Aussom Aussie to connect with people who are just as passionate about the autism cause as they are themselves. Behind each sale there’s often an underlying personal connection to the cause.

“The people that buy (the bracelets), they’re passionate. This is not an impulse purchase. It’s something that will affect people they love, or their family members. They’re passionate – and that’s exciting for us,” Paul said. “The kind of pace that it’s grown to over the last few days has been exciting for us, so I hope it continues.”

Rose Smith purchased a bracelet with lunch during Saturday’s festivities, in honor of her 30-year-old autistic nephew. For her, supporting autism awareness campaigns means giving back to the support network that has benefited her own family, as well as helping to generate awareness for a prevalent, though obscure, diagnosis.

“Autism has been around for years, and now it’s finally getting true recognition,” Smith said on Saturday. “I think there are more people that have autism today than we’re aware of. It’s a growing issue – not something that just started yesterday.

“I think that any support to try and help autism is beneficial. Any kind of donation, whether it be time, or money will be great to help relieve some of the stress that comes along with a diagnosis … I think it’s great that (Aussom Aussie) saw the opportunity to use these events to help generate awareness. It’s just a great opportunity to help support those that need it,” she said.

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Blake's Friend
September 03, 2013
Perhaps Mr. Mackay would like to comment on how infrequently he sees Blake since he left him and his mother for another woman and moved out of state. Blake was forced to leave the only house he ever knew because Mr Mackay is more concerned about money than his son's happiness. It is noble that he wants to help others, but sad he doesn't extend the same concern to his own.
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