GREENFIELD — Dana Brown picked up the microphone, her voice shaking slightly as she began to address the crowd.
Hurt. Gratitude. Nervousness. Determination. Each emotion — those of a mother still mourning the loss of her son — came through in every syllable as she spoke, thanking the crowd for coming out to support their family and their mission to help people struggling with addiction get clean.
About 200 community members packed into Greenfield’s Lincoln Square Pancake House Saturday evening as Brown and her family hosted a fundraiser benefiting the city’s first recovery house.
The program was created in memory of Brown’s 28-year-old son, Cord Tucker, who died a year ago from a heroin and fentanyl overdose. In their grief, Brown, her family and her son’s friends searched for a way to help those who battle addiction.
Each year, they invite the community into the diner where Tucker worked to share a meal together, laugh, listen to music, dance and learn about different recovery and grief programs offered in Hancock County. They hold raffles and solicit donations to further that work.
Weeks after Tucker’s death in February 2017, his loved ones held their first Stand Up to Heroin event and brought in enough money to put 28 people into halfway houses through the county probation department’s heroin protocol program.
This year’s event collected nearly $5,000 to help complete the construction of Talitha Koum, a women’s recovery house set to open in Greenfield later this year.
But, more than a fundraiser, the Stand Up to Heroin event gives those who have lost a loved one to addiction a chance to come together, to share about the one heartbreaking experience they have in common.
Brown said her goal is to break the stigma that addiction carries, to teach community members that people battling addiction are so much more than the disease they live with and, perhaps most importantly, to show other struggling families they have neighbors to lean on.
In a back corner of the restaurant, Heather and Mike Bussell sat at a booth watching the commotion unfolding around them.
Five years have passed since their son, Landis Bussell, died of a heroin overdose when he was 27 years old. And in that time, it’s been difficult to find people who truly understand the darkness they’ve faced, they said.
They spent those years excluding themselves, finding what comfort they could in their old friends but feeling distant and misunderstood, they said. Saturday was the first time the Bussells felt brave enough to venture out to a fundraiser they knew would drum up painful emotions.
So many of the families who packed into the restaurant belong to a club no one would ever wish to be in, the Bussells said. But what they’ve all found, sitting there in a little diner together, shoulder to shoulder, is the army of support they’ve craved since their son’s passing. Here, finally, were others with the same drive to take on the drug that took so many, they said.
Brown said more people need to see people struggling with addiction the way their families do, as people in trouble and not just statistics.
“Heroin wasn’t who they (were),” she said. “They didn’t get to see the side of them we saw. If they’d seen that side, they’d all be filling this place.”