The “Gavel Grabbers” help 3-year old.

Plant City Lions Club’s ‘Gavel Grabbers’ raise support for 3-year-old cancer patient.


In a breaking-news event, Lions Clubs throughout Central Florida are advised to keep an eye on their gavels.

A vigilante group known as the “Gavel Grabbers” ha vebeen striking various club meetings, stealing (borrowing) the presidents’ gavels and on occasion other club items.

But, let it be known, it is for a good cause.

The Gavel Grabbers belong to the Plant City Lions Club. And, they’re not doing it for the riches or the fame. They’re doing it to help connect clubs and raise money for Gabriel Brannan-Buehl, a 3-year-old who has lost one eye to retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that affects young children. He only has a 20% chance of getting retinoblastoma in the other eye, and, as he ages, the chances decrease.

“The fun of visiting clubs and taking things is just this: It is a way to meet other club members, learn ideas on how each of us serves our community, share responsibilities if each needs help, and to do exactly what we are doing to help Gabriel,” Plant City Lions Club President Verna McKelvin said. “Because, if it is too costly for one club to handle, then we all need to jump in and help save this child’s sight in his eye.”

GAVEL2The tradition of stealing (borrowing) gavels always has existed within the Lions organization. But, it has fallen out of fashion in recent times. Plant City’s Lions decided to bring it back a couple of years ago. When a gavel is taken, the victimized club must pay a visit to the thieving club and pay a $1 fee. The Gavel Grabbers even have a ransom note drafted by tail twister David Vick and signed by McKelvin.

“Our goal at that time was to bridge the gap of Lions Clubs to share ideas and work together,” McKelvin said.

Since then, the club has used the kindhearted prank to raise money for Gabriel’s medical expenses after hearing about Gabriel from the Dixieland Lions Club in Lakeland. The club members were on another mission to get the gavel and were sidetracked when a Dixieland member read a plea for financial help from Gabriel’s mother, Jen Brannan.

It touched the heart of member Frank Cummings, who has worked in the assisted living business.

“I saw a lot of people fall through the cracks,” Cummings said. “They were falling through the cracks.”

At the next heist, about 10 members visited the Lakeland Lions Club with the intention of asking them to partner with them for Gabriel.

They also still had their eye on the gavel. Member Frances Hardee was tasked with the mission. She had been wildly successful at taking other gavels. No one had suspected the senior owner of Hardee’s Fashions to be the main conspirator. She became so good that the club even nicknamed her “Sticky Fingers.”

GAVEL1But, word of her antics had spread across social media between clubs.

“As their meeting progressed, we all sat against the wall and discussed quietly that there was no gavel to be seen,” McKelvin said.

Although there was no gavel, the president of the Lakeland Lions Club and its board listened to the story about Gabriel and awarded a $500 check to the cause.

“We came out of that meeting, and I was very happy that they gave us a $500 check but saddened a little that there was no gavel to take,” McKelvin said.

As the members gathered in the parking lot, Lion Bob Fulks asked McKelvin for the ransom letter. She didn’t know why he was asking since their was no gavel to take.

But, Sticky Fingers had come through. McKelvin asked her what she took. She looked up at McKelvin with innocent eyes.

Reaching into her Lions vest, she gently pulled out the Lakeland club’s guestbook, which has signatures dating back to 2001.

“We scrambled and got everyone in vehicles and started posting pictures on Facebook,” McKelvin said.

The Lakeland Lions Club hasn’t claimed their guestbook yet, but the new District Governor Judy Galm collected her gavel at the Plant City Lions Club May 27 meeting. Previously, two high school Leos Club members, trained by Vick, commandeered the gavel at the Lions Club Organizational meeting at the Wesley Center.

“Our club, at that moment, was praised and they said that we are making a positive impression on Lions Clubs everywhere,” McKelvin said. “While we are having fun, we are bridging clubs together. I was told that no one has ever hosted an organizational meeting and stole the governor’s gavel.”

At the May 27 meeting, McKelvin also updated Gabriel and Jen on their fundraising progress. So far, they have collected $500 and will match whatever is collecting, making a total of $1,000 towards Gabriel’s bills so far.

“We’re just grateful that people have helped us,” Jen said. “And he’s doing well. He says he has one God eye and one doctor eye.”

Jen Brannan didn’t notice any symptoms of retinoblastoma in her son, Gabriel Brannan-Buehl. In September, he was diagnosed with the rare eye cancer found in children.

“I want people to know the warning signs,” Brannan said.

• “Cat’s eye” — A white-yellow mass or glow seen through the pupil — often first noticed in a photo of a child’s face when the flash is used without red-eye reduction. Normally, the center of the eye appears red in response to the camera flash, but in retinoblastoma, the center of the eye may have a white glow.
• Complaints of poor vision
• One or both eyes turning inward or outward
• Pain from increased pressure in the eye as the tumor grows

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