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Zombies take over downtown Youngstown

Cherry Brawler and her fellow roller derby champions stopped in the B&O Station Banquet Hall to garb up Saturday before heading out to the Youngstown Zombie Crawl to dance and scare the city. Michael DiLisio of Poland applies a prosthetic to her face. Revenue from the event’s registration will support the mission of Buster’s Brigade, an organization using donations to support the owners of furry friends by providing pet food, veterinarian clinics and other services in the Mahoning Valley. Their pet-food pantries are in four Mahoning Valley locations, in a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Zombie Crawl may be in its 13th year of spooky fun, but the fundraiser has a new charity to benefit from the brain-eating, walking dead that pour onto city streets to show off their flesh-torn faces, dead eyes and dance moves.

Buster’s Brigade, which serves Mahoning County and the surrounding areas, helps pets stay in their loving homes even when their pet parents are struggling to afford pet food and veterinary care. People who registered for the Zombie Crawl, put on by B&O Station Banquet Hall, 530 Mahoning Ave., went to the hall to have their “Night of the Living Dead” faces applied, and proceeds from the registrants go to support Buster’s Brigade.

Children were invited to the banquet hall until 6 p.m. to participate in Halloween fun, like dipping apples donated by White House Fruit Farms into caramel, painting pumpkins donated by Angiuli’s Farm with paints donated by the Youngstown YMCA, sipping apple cider and watching the crawl participants slowly transform into flesh-eating monsters.

Participants flooded into Youngstown at the start of the crawl at 6 p.m., and danced the “Thrill of the World” a collective dance, flash mob held all across the world in zombie garb as a “Thriller” tribute to Michael Jackson. The undead, most taking advantage of van transportation offered by B&O, went on to visit area establishments, with several restaurants and bars participating.

Cherry Brawler of Boardman brought her stepdaughter Jada Judy and friend Spice Frost, all of Boardman and on a roller derby team together, to get zombified. Michael DiLisio of Poland applied prosthetics, exposed gnashers, torn muscle tissue and blood — a lot of blood — to the three.

With bulging blue veins, red-tinted contact lenses and a new burning hunger for white matter, the three escaped into the city terrifying the townspeople with their raging roller derby moves.

Catherine Fetter, director of facilities for the B&O, said the former train station has the right “vintage vibes” for a spooky setting. Its main building was constructed in 1905.

Fetter said the family-owned banquet hall believes in the mission for Buster’s Brigade.

“They work to keep pets like dogs in the homes of the owners who love them,” Fetter said. “It breaks my heart.”

Donna Sekman started the nonprofit with help from her husband and friends in 2018. Looking for something to stay busy and help others, Sekman learned of a need in the community after communicating with other organizations that work with animals.

“We were hearing that some people were bringing their pets to shelters, not because they didn’t want them anymore, but because they couldn’t afford a vet trip or pet food,” Sekman said. “So we help pets stay in the home with financial assistance and several other programs. The (pet parents) just need a little help finding the right resources.”

In a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, the charity has set up four pet food pantries, which have been a great success. One of the pantries supplies 250 families with pet food each week, she said.

“It shows there is a great need,” Sekman said.

And a vet clinic where eight veterinarians volunteered their time at an event hosted by Youngstown State University, 200 pets were seen in four hours, Sekman said.

The charity also assists local police departments by providing them with the resources to house animals they come across, long enough to find their rightful owners, and without having to ship them off to a shelter, Sekman said.

Fourteen police departments have taken part in the program, including Campbell and Lowellville, with the village police department receiving an entire outdoor, on-site kennel from Buster’s Brigade.

Visit BustersBrigade.org or Buster’s Brigade on Facebook to donate funds to the nonprofit.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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