Freed fundraiser sees big support

Joe Freed stopped by A.W.E. Auto Service in Traer on Jan. 19 to receive the donations given to him by the community over the past few weeks. A.W.E. employees pictured are (l-r): Matt Quigley, Del Sealock, Loren Wrage, Gretchen Pargeon, Scott Lycett, Joe Freed, Dahn Kennedy and Sue McLean. -- Photo provided

In times of great difficulty, great acts of kindness often emerge.

Through the holiday season the community of Traer has been rallying around one of its own.

Joe Freed has been a local auto mechanic with A.W.E Auto Service in Traer for the past 13 years, working with a team that made sure people in the community could have vehicles to get them where they needed to be.

Through the last half of 2020 the 54-year old Freed has been living with squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of cancer that has severely impacted his neck and throat.

When Freed began treatment in the summer, he was forced to step away from his job at A.W.E.

Last month the staff at A.W.E. Auto Service got together to organize a fundraiser for Freed and his family in search of some way to simply help out.

A call was put out to the community in December to consider a donation in support of the Freeds. When the drive concluded on Jan. 15, A.W.E. Auto reported that $8,625 was donated.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” A.W.E. Office Manager Dahn Kennedy said. “In the past people might have had a big fundraiser at the Memorial Building where you can gather a bunch of people together and do an auction or something. With that option not being out there due to COVID, we just put a couple containers here in our building, blasted it out on Facebook and hoped for the best.”

The outreach was put together on short notice over a few weeks time, during the holiday shopping season and in the middle of a global pandemic health crisis.

“I love those guys at A.W.E. more than anything,” Freed said. “You talk about Marvel Comics and you talk about superheroes, right here they are at A.W.E.”

Freed visited A.W.E. on Jan. 19 to receive the proceeds of the fundraiser and as a gesture of thanks donated his toolbox to the shop knowing it was unlikely he’d be able to return to work as a service technician.

“It’s crazy to think that this many people, you know, even in the hard times with job loss and things will drop off a $100 bill, Kennedy said. “People still have such huge hearts. That and we had people donate that don’t even know Joe or maybe don’t patronize us. But they just knew it was the right thing to do, to help somebody out in this situation. One person that called and wanted to give, she said, ‘I don’t even know him, it’s just the right thing to do.’ Those were exactly her words. So it totally exceeded way above and beyond our expectations.”

Freed came to A.W.E. in a roundabout sort of way 13 years ago. He was working in Waterloo and stopped to visit with A.W.E.’s owner Mike Pargeon about needing a car for his step-daughter.

“We got to talking and talking and after a while I looked over at my wife and said, ‘This feels like a job interview’,” Freed said. “Mike looked at me and said ‘You know, you’re right, this is a job interview.’ I went to work for Mike that January on my birthday and I haven’t looked back since.”

Freed spoke with the Telegraph on Tuesday and was emotional when asked for his reaction after learning of the fundraiser.

“I can’t thank people enough,” Freed said. “This town is phenomenal. You just can’t beat the community there.”

Kennedy described the atmosphere at A.W.E. as a close-knit family business

“Joe, you know, he’s been here 13 years and is just a huge part of that team,” Kennedy said. “He’s a good-natured, loyal employee. You don’t find that a lot anymore. It’s a huge loss not having him here. It kind of hurts our hearts, you know, to see him going through this.”

Although Freed’s cancer has been moving in aggressive ways, he’s remained focused on doing what he can to beat it. He looks to the example he witnessed in his mother when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the late 90s. Freed said she was able to recover after undergoing treatment and that he is trying to keep the same mentality as he progresses through his own cancer treatment.

“I’m going to beat it,” Freed said. “I’m not going to let it hold me down.”

In December, Freed learned his cancer had returned after going through invasive surgery, radiation treatment and chemotherapy treatments in the late fall.

Freed will begin more rounds of chemotherapy this week but was told surgery and radiation are no longer an option.

The treatment will take close to a week and then he’ll wait three more weeks before going back for another round.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, A.W.E. Auto Service released the following statement: “From the bottom of our humble hearts, thank you so much to everyone who contributed to help Joe and his family out. We here at A.W.E. greatly appreciate what you have done for him. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he continues on with chemotherapy.”