Profits from pizza sales go to slain deputy's family

It's not about the pizza.

If it were, Gary and Debbie Malcom wouldn't have been at the Papa John's Pizza downtown around lunchtime Thursday picking up a dozen pizzas to take back to their colleagues at Cargill.

"It's not my pizza of choice," Gary said. "But since they're donating it for a good cause, we decided to come."

Thousands of others apparently agree with the Malcoms.

After Papa John's announced it would donate all of its profits from its 10 Wichita-area stores to a fund established for the family of slain Sedgwick County sheriff's Deputy Brian Etheridge, droves of people have descended on the stores or requested delivery.

In fact, the response was so overwhelming that franchise co-owner Terry Newman decided to extend the fund drive and donate all of his profits through Sunday's sales.

"I've been in the restaurant business since 1984," Newman said while taking a break Thursday from helping his swamped staff at the downtown store, "and I never had a night like I had (Wednesday)."

He said his stores sold 8,000 to 9,000 pizzas Wednesday. A normal Wednesday might see 2,000 to 3,000 pizzas, he said.

The pace remained strong Thursday as the community sought to help Etheridge's widow, Sarah, and 2-year-old daughter, Natalie.

By noon, Newman said his downtown store was running 50 percent above its normal business.

When crews arrived at the stores around 8:30 a.m. for prep before the stores opened at 11 a.m., the phones were already ringing with orders.

A truck with fresh supplies was to arrive Thursday night from Texas.

"We need more of everything," Newman said.

To keep up with the staffing demand, crews that closed stores on Wednesday night volunteered to open Thursday morning.

And customers were patient. Those who couldn't get their orders Wednesday told Papa John's employees they would just come back the next day.

Even customers who placed their orders hours in advance Wednesday found themselves waiting more than an hour at stores.

"Our lobbies looked like block parties, like neighbors meeting neighbors for the first time," Newman said.

Count the Malcoms in that crowd.

After their first attempt at a pizza run was foiled Wednesday because Debbie Malcom couldn't get through on the phone, she placed a two-pizza order online at 1 p.m. Wednesday with pickup scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

"We still waited until 6:30 p.m.," she said. "They were a good two hours behind on pizzas, but no one minded waiting."

Her husband said, "They were going to give us our money back, but we said no way."

Before the fundraiser ends Sunday, Newman estimated he would turn $12,000 to $20,000 in profits over to the memorial fund. That includes his restaurant, Genghis Grill, which donated Tuesday's profits to the Etheridge family.

But, again, it's not about the pizza. That total doesn't include donations people drop in a fund box at each store.

"I had a little boy get a dollar out of his piggy bank and bring it in," Newman said. "I had another send 74 cents with his teacher. That's all the money the kid had, but he wanted to give.

"That's what it's about. It's not just about buying pizza."

That was also the message a Wichita police officer sent in an e-mail to Newman after waiting 30 minutes at a store for a pizza:

"During that time I was in the lobby I was talking with 30 other customers, and it gave me the biggest community feeling I've ever had."

That was also the feeling Kimberly Grimes had after overseeing a bake sale Wednesday and Thursday at Wichita State University that raised $1,500 for Etheridge's family.

"It was a blessing to be part of something that touched so many people," said Grimes, a graduate assistant in WSU's community affairs school and president of the Criminal Justice Student Association. "It's not a lot, but it's something we can do."

Etheridge, who was killed in the line of duty Sept. 28, was a 2005 graduate of WSU.

Grimes said the leftover baked goodies were dropped off at the Sheriff's Office.

"Just to tell them thank you," she said.

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