Doughnut lovers aid local Olympian

Long time customer and friend Millie Jackson hugs Clarissa Saunders at Krispy Kreme in West Ashley Wednesday during a fundraiser to help the Saunders’ family travel to Rio for the Olympics. Krispy Kreme held a fundraiser to help Saunders, who has worked at the store for 20 years, travel to Brazil to see her daughter Raven Saunders compete in the Olympics. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

Tonetta Watson-Coleman stood in the Krispy Kreme parking lot on Savannah Highway, so moved to tears by the outpouring of generosity around her that she fell speechless.

To her right sat a bucket full of cash, packed with bills of all denominations, including a few hundreds.

Across the parking lot ahead of her, customers traveled in and out of the doughnut shop Wednesday, there to support Watson-Coleman’s niece, Raven Saunders, and her family.

Three weeks ago, Saunders earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the shot put, bound for Rio de Janiero next week.

Two weeks ago, Watson-Coleman began a vigorous fundraising campaign so that she, Raven’s mother Clarissa and Raven’s younger sister Tanzania could all afford a trip to Rio to be with Raven and to support her. Expenses for Olympic athletes are paid for by the U.S. Olympic Commmittee, but their families are largely on their own.

Clarissa Saunders has worked at Krispy Kreme for almost 20 years. So on Wednesday, the Savannah Highway shop donated $1 to the family’s travel funds for every dozen doughnuts sold. The store also set up a tent outside in the parking lot, where people could make individual donations.

“I don’t know if I really have the words,” Tonetta said as tears dripped down her face.

“I’m overjoyed that (Raven’s) going. But to be able to be there so that she can see some familiar faces is just incredible. I’m just grateful because without the support of our local community (and) friends worldwide, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, Krispy Kreme said it had sold 1,000 dozen doughnuts, instantly translating into $1,000 for the family’s trip.

Four extra workers were asked to work a shift Wednesday in anticipation for the influx of sales. David Moore, the store’s director of operations, said the store expected to sell about 1,500 dozen doughnuts by midnight.

Those extra $1,500, coupled with the donations from the bucket outside and the $20,000 that the family raised through a GoFundMe page should give Raven’s cheering section the funds it needs.

Tonetta, Clarissa and Tanzania’s flights are already booked, meaning all that’s left to do is finalize hotel or apartment accommodations. A mutal friend who lives in Rio is helping the family discern which places are safe for their stay.

“It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it — just her dedication to the sport,” Clarissa said.

“Sometimes you give kids something and they take off with it. And with Raven, anything you give her, she takes off with it. I love that. I love it, I love it.”

Saunders, a three-time NCAA champion in the shot put, got the nod to the Olympic team by placing second in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon earlier this month. The top three shot putters made the team, and the shot put portion of the Games is scheduled for Aug. 12.

Those at Krispy Kreme to lend their support ranged from longtime customers of Clarissa’s to total strangers.

The lady who used to clean Raven’s teeth when she was a young girl was there. A man who clipped Raven’s picture from an article and has carried it in his wallet ever since, was there.

“That’s my girl,” he said as he dropped a donation in the bucket.

And a couple that Clarissa has served for more than a decade at Krispy Kreme was also there.

Charles and Millie Jackson didn’t know that Raven had made the team — they haven’t been to Krispy Kreme in six months — but for 15 years they’ve eagerly listened while Clarissa told them about her daughter.

The couple found out the news as they sipped on their morning coffee and munched on glazed doughnuts.

Then they made a donation.

“Isn’t that something?” Millie smiled, addressing Clarissa.

“That’s wonderful. You’ve worked long and hard, honey.”