The whole idea started when Curtis Benelli got a craving for an 1106 burger. Unfortunately, that legendary Pittsburg drive-in no longer exists.
Benelli mentioned his yearning to Chatters owner Ahmad Enayati, who whipped up a burger basket for him, but didn't stop there. Instead, Enayati began thinking.
"The 15th anniversary of Chatters is coming up, and that's a little bit of a milestone for us," he said. "In 2014 we want to inspire people and do something for the community."
Enayati came up with the idea of having 12 month-long fundraisers in 2014, using a special dish each month.
"We're asking people to come up with a dish we can sell for $8.50 that's seasonal," he said. "We'll donate 50 cents from each sale of that dish to a charity or cause, and Chatters will match that amount up to $250 for the month. We'll be giving away $3,000 in 2014 to charities and causes, and building awareness of situations in the community that people may not know much about or diseases that aren't in the news."
Since Curtis Benelli gave him the start of the idea, Enayati decided to launch the campaign in January with the "Benelli Basket."
"I couldn't call it an '1106 basket' because that place was an icon in Pittsburg," he said.
The special offers two cheeseburgers with pickles and grilled onions and a side of potato wedges for $8.50. When purchased between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. the basket includes a 32-ounce drink. Beverages will cost extra after 4 p.m.
"I called Curtis and told him what we were doing, and said that he could select the charity the proceeds went to," Enayati said. "That's when he told me about his brother, Jeff, who was losing his eyesight to choroideremia. I'd never even heard of it before."
Jeff Benelli, who now lives in the Kansas City area, was diagnosed with the rare inherited retinal degenerative disease in 1994. Then 28, he was told he would be totally blind by the age of 50.
Since that time he has waged a battle against the disease and for funds to support research into a treatment or cure for CHM. Because it is so rare, there had previously been very little research done on the disorder.
In a telephone interview, Benelli said he was delighted with the idea for the "Benelli basket."
"This is so exciting," he said. "The money this will raise is fantastic, and so is the exposure about choroideremia."
For five years Benelli ran in marathons to raise funds and awareness of CHM.
"I ran more than 10,000 miles competing in six marathons and raised more than $160,000," he said.
His deteriorating vision made running unassisted more and more dangerous, and he has pretty much stopped marathoning.
"I'll turn 48 in a couple of weeks, and I'm marathoning more with my mind now," Benelli said. "I'll probably lose the rest of my sight in the next couple of years."
However, recent research pointed the way to a possible treatment by locating mutations on a gene on the X chromosome that causes CHM. Researchers have been working on ways to deliver copies of a healthy gene to the appropriate cells in the retina by using an adeno-associated virus.
However, any proposed treatment/cure must make it through clinical trials to establish its safety and effectiveness, following strict FDA guidelines.
"The clinical trials process typically takes around five to seven years, though the FDA recently opened doors indicating it may be willing to expedite the process," Benelli said. "This is going to happen. Whether I will get any benefit from it or not is something else."
The son of Peggy and Martin Benelli Jr., he is still thrilled that his hometown will once again have an opportunity to help fund the extinction of choroideremia, and hopes to be able to sample a "Benelli basket" himself.
"I need to make it down there to have one," Benelli said. "I loved 1106. It was a family favorite forever."
Anyone having an idea for fundraising special dish may call Chatters at 620-232-7277.