The events of Jan. 8 in Tucson sent shock waves throughout the country, and West Valley leaders and residents came together this weekend in recognition of that grief and showed support for the victims.

“A day of Unity and Giving to Support our Fellow Americans in Tucson” brought together members of the community in Sun City and in Glendale on Sunday in remembrance of the tragedy that left six dead and a dozen others wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Jerry Iannacci, a former Homeland Security adviser and the volunteer CEO of the Public Safety Volunteer Partnership, spearheaded the West Valley events. He said they are important because it strengthens the American spirit by bringing members of a community together.

“Unity events inspire and provoke thought, and offer to assist those who may need help,” Iannacci said. Such events help both the healing process and the grieving process needed to move on after a tragedy, he said.

The two events, at the Banner Olive Branch Senior Center in Sun City and La Piazza al Forno Restaurant in downtown Glendale, offered the community an outlet for their mourning and helped raise money for the victims.

Ivy Shirley, the director of Banner Olive Branch, said the victims are in her thoughts and prayers, and in those of the community. She said she hopes that Giffords and the other affected know that Sun City was deeply touched by the event.

Iva Robbins, a Sun City resident, helped set up for the event and thought it went well.

“It lets the community know that we’re behind them after the tragedy,” she said. “We certainly don’t want to have any here.”

“I can’t even comprehend it,” Robbins said of the Tucson shooting.

The Banner Olive Branch event featured a complimentary barbecue, entertainment from the Sun City Desert Brass Band, a presentation of colors by the Naval Cadet Youth Corps Honor Guard, a scale model of the USS Arizona sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, and speeches from Shirley, Iannacci and Tom McCanna, a representative from the office of Sen. John McCain.

McCanna read a letter from McCain, who apologized for not being able to be there himself.

“As you know, Jan. 8, 2011, is a day that will forever haunt us,” McCanna read. “Our most basic and fundamental American rights of peaceful assembly and free speech were attacked. The healing process has begun, and your event today is testament of American’s resilience and spirit of unity.”

Iannacci pointed out that tragedies such as the one in Tucson are not unique, and in fact repeat themselves throughout history. The USS Arizona model was there to remind people of another surprise attack, as well as prompt them to remember the service the military is there to do, Iannacci said.

“We can’t live our lives in fear,” he said. “We cannot allow such events to dampen the American spirit. This is how we denounce such acts of terrorism.”

Iannacci told event attendees that it is important for a community to be aware, vigilant and recognize when people need help to prevent such tragedies.

“We are not alone,” he told the crowd.

At a concurrent event in Glendale, La Piazza al Forno Restaurant offered diners a fixed price menu, served by members of the Naval Cadet Youth Corp, all proceeds of which will go to a fund set up at Meridian Bank for the victims and heroes of the Tucson tragedy to help assure their quality of life, help with rehabilitation, medical expenses and other costs.

Restaurant owner Justin Piazza said the event raised about $1,500, and he thought it was successful for the restaurant’s first such endeavor.

“What you get out of it is far more than what you put into it,” Piazza said.

Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs stopped by for the meal and made her own personal contribution to the fund after thanking both Iannacci and Piazza for organizing an event that helps the community cope with grief, sorrow and confusion after one like the Tucson shooting.

“I think people have been touched so much by what’s happened,” Scruggs said. “Events like this are as much for the people involved as it is for the victims.”

Both events were sponsored and organized by groups including Iannacci’s Public Safety Volunteer Partnership, the Veteran’s Foreign Legion, American Legions, The West Valley Veterans Coalition, and the Naval Cadet Youth Corps.

Donations can also be made directly to the fund at Meridian Bank. Mail checks made payable to ‘PSVP- Special Tucson Victims Assistance Fund to:

Meridian Bank

1675 N. 95th Lane

Phoenix, AZ 85037

Attn: Tucson Victims Assistance Fund

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