TUPELO • People might not have full faith in the worldwide economy, but the people of northeast Mississippi are ready to help out a good cause.
For the last 15 years, veteran Scott Burns has spent the week before the Fourth of July camped out at The Mall at Barnes Crossing raising money for disabled and aging veterans. On Day 4, this year’s “7 Days for the Troops,” he had already doubled the biggest previous total.
By the time the event closed Saturday afternoon, Burns had raised $39,475, just short of his goal. People can still donate online, and that money will be added to this year’s event totals.
“The most we had ever collected in one year was $18,000. We were sitting at $36,500 Friday morning, so I set a goal to reach $40,000 by Saturday night,” Burns said.
This year’s pot started with around 40 businesses anteing up $18,000 in sponsorship money. While plenty of people gave a straight donation to the cause, most people decided to purchase a raffle ticket for one of the 30-something items donated.
When Burns started the event in 2007, he camped out in a tent for a week by the flag pole near the Sears store. That year he only had three things to raffle. When the event moved inside the mall, the number of raffle items increased.
The pandemic forced the event back outside in 2020, causing the number of raffle items to decrease dramatically.
“It’s harder outside because you have to have someone watching the items all the time, and some things you can’t leave outside,” Burns said.
Uncertainties surrounded this year’s event all the way through mid-June. It was only when he finally got permission to camp out on the stage at the food court inside the mall that Burns started looking for raffle items.
“I didn’t have any raffle items a week and a half before the event,” Burns said. “But when I started asking, businesses came forward to help.”
The Tupelo event is not the only weeklong fundraiser Burns does for PHH. He held a similar event in Statesville, North Carolina. He will next go to Tallulah, Louisiana, next and round out his year in Tampa, Florida, around Veterans Day.
Not only was the Tupelo event good, Burns feels he can have a huge year.
“We are on the pace to raise $100,000 this year, which would be amazing.” Burns said. “We are already over halfway there, and the last two should have huge crowds.”
The Louisiana event, at the Vicksburg-Talullah Regional Airport in late October, will be part of a car show and air show hosted by the Southern Heritage Air Foundation Museum.
Anyone still wanting to donate can got to PHHUSA.org and follow the links to the Tupelo event to make sure their donation goes to Mississippi veterans.
“I don’t keep any of the money I raise,” Burns said. “It all goes to Purple Heart Homes, and it stays in this area. This is our ninth year to be associated with them. In that time, they have helped out three veterans in Tupelo and 13 in Mississippi.
When he camped out for a week to raise awareness in 2007, he thought it would be a one-time event. But when the mall invited him inside, he knew he had to keep going. Now he wants to keep it going to “retire” on a nice round number.
“I think I have five more years in me after this,” Burns said. “That would make our 20th year and 21st event. I would be 54 then, and that will be a good time to stop.”
Burns was in the Marines between 1991 and 1995 and suffered an injury that led to the amputation of his lower left leg in 2012. That surgery was in March, but he didn’t miss the fundraiser that June. Now on his right calf, he has a tattoo that says, “I’m with stumpy” above an arrow pointing to the prosthetic.
“When I realized that I was going to have to have my leg cut off, I realized I could let it bother me, or I could let it be inspiration,” Burns said. “The tattoo is my way of saying this doesn’t bother me. It’s opened doors to people talking to me about handling an amputation or some other tough situation in a positive way.”