The South Mississippi community answered the call to help a Gulfport police officer who's battling a life-threatening condition. Two Papa John's restaurants held a fundraiser Thursday for the family of Officer Shawn Williams. The customers say they're proud to support someone who serves and protects their neighborhoods.
The calls came pouring in an hour before the doors opened. Customers lined up early, but most of them weren't just craving pizza.
"This is the reason we're here, for this nice young man," said Vanessa Keller as she pointed to a picture of Williams.
The officer suffered a brain aneurysm last Wednesday. Keller said Williams, affectionately known as Cupcake, is one of her bank customers. When her coworkers heard that two Papa John's restaurants were donating 20 percent of the day's sales to help with the officer's medical expenses, they wanted to help.
"Because he's a part of the community, and he helps serve and protect us. That's why," said Keller. "We were hungry, like, what are we doing to eat today? Pizza."
The Papa John's on Pass Road brought in extra employees to fill the unexpected orders.
"It's just been crazy good. That shows so much community support for Gulfport. Gulfport comes together in times of need," said Jourdan Hartshorn, Papa John's Coast Marketing Director.
"I heard about the cause on Facebook, and we like to support our officers at Memorial," said Kristy Jarrell, who picked up eight pizzas for the X-ray staff at Memorial Hospital.
"It's something so sudden and tragic. No one saw it coming, and it's sad to see what the family's going through. It feels good to be able to do something that's really simple. It's just eating pizza, but it's helping the family all at the same time," said Christian Ashford, who picked up 10 pizzas for his downtown Gulfport law office.
That financial and emotional support means a lot to the Williams family. The officer's two teenage children showed up to personally thank the customers.
"It's amazing, because we didn't expect all of this. We didn't expect to have half of Gulfport supporting my dad, and it makes us feel very loved, and we greatly appreciate that," said Maia Williams.
Maia said everyone on Team Cupcake is also praying for her dad's full recovery, because the eight year police veteran wants to return to the force.
When asked what her dad would say about the support, Maia said, "I think he'd say, 'Thank you.' I told him he was on the news and he got excited and was like, 'Well, was I now? How'd I look?' and I said, 'You looked great.'"
Everyone who purchased food at the Papa John's on Pass Road and Crossroads Parkway on Thursday was entered into a raffle to win pizza for a year. You can also buy additional tickets through Friday afternoon. Four winners' names will be drawn Friday at 2 p.m. That's when the money from the pizza fundraiser will be presented the Williams family.