KNOXVILLE — College basketball fans and just kind hearted people from around the country all chipped in to raise more than $350,000 for the family of Zakai Zeigler, whose family’s home in Queens, New York burned down on Feb. 26, destroying everything.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Friday evening and discussed the overwhelming support for Zeigler and his family.
“It shows you we live here in a part of the country — East Tennessee, the state of Tennessee, nationally — people, saw what happened and certainly said hey, we want to step in and do our part,” Barnes said. “I think it speaks volumes to anybody that contributed to help him.
“Before anything could happen, it was already moving in a way that I’m not sure any of us knew what would happen. I think he would tell you it has overwhelmed he and his family, the kind of support they’ve received.”
The Vols were coming off a win over No. 3 Auburn and everything felt great around the program until Zakai got the unfortunate phone call from his family. His mother Charmane Zeigler, his four-year-old nephew Nori, and other family members, were displaced by the fire. The unfortunate event also destroyed all of the vital accessibility equipment needed to care for his nephew, including a wheelchair and other medical devices.
Zeigler released a statement on Thursday night, thanking everyone for the support and outpouring of love.
“My mom and I can’t begin to express how much love and gratitude we have for Vol Nation and everyone who has contributed. The outpouring in less than 24 hours has been overwhelming and we have closed the fundraiser. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to everyone who donated and kept our family in your prayers. We’ll be back on our feet soon and we’ll never forget the love and generosity of Vol Nation!”
Rick Barnes and his teammates have been by Zakai’s side since they first heard of the incident, and they went in detail about that after the win at Georgia on Tuesday.
Rick Barnes also had this to say about the support of the Tennessee fan base and the spirit of the community.
“I think when we talk about our fans, we talk about the spirit and what they bring to our games … we talk about Vol Nation being what it is,” Barnes said. “I think what they did, it runs a lot deeper than that.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the university launched a GoFundMe account with the goal set at $50,000. As you can imagine, Tennessee fans and other folks touched by the story completely shattered that goal. Just thirty minutes after the fundraiser went live, the goal was already reached.
Zeigler posted a message to supporters late Wednesday night, saying he will donate any money that is not needed to charity.
“We have been absolutely blown away by the outpouring of support and generosity! Any contributions above and beyond our final losses/expenses will be donated to charity. Thank you to everyone who has given.”
The amount raised could potentially give Zakai’s mother and the family the opportunity to move to Knoxville so they can be closer to Zeigler, who will be in the area for a few more years playing basketball. The money that was raised will be used for temporary housing, medical equipment and any kind of travel needed in the meantime.
Donations came in from all over the country, from former Tennessee athletes, OutKick founder Clay Travis, Chancellor Donde Plowman and thousands of kind-hearted people just looking to help the family.
In all, the GoFundMe page says that over 5,400 people donated to the fund before it was closed on Thursday. They raised $351,175 total.
Well done to everyone involved, including the different fan bases and especially Tennessee fans across the country.
You’ve turned a complete disaster into a story of compassion.