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Families And Friends Gather To Raise Awareness For Suicide Prevention In Columbia

Phyllis Blackwelder became involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention after losing her son in 2013. Now acting as the Missouri area director, she knows the importance of the events the organization holds.

“It's important to let everybody know that there is hope, that there is help and to check with their friends and their neighbors,” Blackwelder said.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted the 6th annual Out of the Darkness walk Sunday at Stephens Lake Park. The event is put on to raise awareness for suicide prevention while honoring loved ones who have passed. People were also able to donate money to the organization.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the event was modified this year into a drive-thru. Attendees were also required to wear masks the entire time.

As people drove through the park, they could participate in different stations. This included filling a fish tank with various colors of sand, signifying the different ways people have been impacted by suicide and that each person is not alone.

Many of the stops were modified to be safe for attendees while creating the same experience from years past. For example, the fish tank was wheeled up to cars for people to pour their sand in.

Tracy McCubbin was in charge of this station and shared the importance of the event happening in light of COVID-19.

“I think just because of the extra stress that's on most people, either financially or emotionally, in the beginning it was really hard," McCubbin said. "That's why this year, we were trying to do everything we could to still have it in person and let people come in and get some healing that they need.”

McCubbin’s niece died by suicide in 2016. Afterwards, he and his wife started working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and have been volunteering ever since.

“I think it's one of those things where you don't realize that this organization exists until you need it," he said.

Organizers also laid out around 1,500 shoes that represented all of the suicides in Missouri in 2018. Among them were 22 military boots for the veterans and active duty military members that die by suicide every day in the United States.

“If you actually see this number of shoes laying out like this, it makes it a whole lot more tangible for most people,” Carrie Neville, a volunteer, explained. “It helps with adding the attention and getting people to realize that this is really a big problem that needs to be addressed.”

Throughout the U.S., over 48,000 people died by suicide in 2018. This makes it the 10th-highest cause of death in America, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Neville is a technical sergeant in the Missouri Air National Guard. She said that suicide touches veterans' lives despite their strong stereotype.

“For a military person, we're expected to be tough and we're expected to just roll with whatever happens. It doesn't work that way. We're still human,” she said.

Attendees were able to sign a banner and write notes to loved ones at the end of the drive-thru and then watch live performances by Natalie McNeely and Lainey Brinegar, two seniors from Battle High School.

“I am so excited about the turn out — we’ve gotten a lot of people here. And so we are able to still help the community, even in COVID times,” said Beth Hendren, board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and organizer of the event.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has raised $15,000 of their $75,000 goal for 2020. While today was the last day to register to donate, people can still raise money until December 31.

If you or a loved on are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.