WEIRD NEWS

Phil Campbells (And Jason Biggs) Bring Relief To Tornado-Damaged Town of Phil Campbell, Ala.

05/15/2011 09:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2011

Calling all Phil Campbells -- Phil Campbell badly needs your help.

A wacky project to get as many people named Phil Campbell from around the world to visit the tiny town of the same name turned into a disaster recovery effort after a tornado devastated Phil Campbell, Ala., on April 27.

The International Phil Campbell Convention was the brainchild of Brooklyn writer Phil Campbell, who hoped to add another fun dimension to the town's 100th anniversary this coming June.

"The whole idea of this was to make a pilgrimage," said Campbell,. "Now it's a relief effort."

Last month's tornado killed 26 residents and displaced another 400 of the 1,000 town residents. The 175-mile-per-hour winds also destroyed the local high school.

Instead of canceling the party, the townspeople and out-of-town Phils decided to proceed with the celebration and add a fundraising drive to their agenda.

"It's a town that's struggling and is trying to rebound with a little grace and style," said Campbell, who is an AOL employee.

Campbell and his like-named buddies rolled out an "I'm with Phil" video campaign that pledges support for the rural settlement named for a railroad engineer.

"Hi, I'm Phil Campbell and I'm committed to helping the town of Phil Campbell," says one Phil after the other in the clip.

Like any high profile cause, the montage includes a celebrity endorsing the mission. In this case, actor Jason Biggs, who portrays the Phil Campbell of Brooklyn in the upcoming movie "Grassroots," promises his support.

Arguably the most famous Phil Campbell of all -- the lead guitarist from Motorhead, an aging heavy metal band -- has shunned his namesakes despite pleas from his brethren.

"Mr. Campbell is home in Wales at the moment and not available," said his publicist Ute Kromrey, in a statement to AOL News.

But about two dozen regular Phil Campbells and one Phyllis Campbell have signed up for the convention and the town is going to send out the welcome wagon to the visitors.

Phil Campbell High School Principal Cindy Davis has rounded up school tee shirts and jerseys that say Phil Campbell Bobcats as gifts for the tourists even though the school building was wrecked and the students have relocated to a nearby community college.

"I wanted them to have souvenirs," said Davis. "The name [Phil Campbell] gives the common ties that bind. They feel some sense of obligation to help out."

There's no denying that residents are upholding the reputation for Southern hospitality. But the tornado changed their immediate priorities.

"This Saturday was supposed to be a town clean up day because we knew that the Phils was coming," said Rita Barton, 56, a bank auditor. "We wanted to get everything real nice for when they got here, but then the tornado came and within five minutes [the town] was changed drastically. Now we have even bigger things to deal with."

This is the first international Phil Campbell roundup, and the presence of several Australian and British nationals will make it a truly global event.

But in 1995, the Brooklyn Phil attracted 21 other Americans with the same name to meet him in the town about 90 miles northwest of Birmingham.

"I started the convention as a lark," he told AOL News. "I was writing a novel, but I was going a bit stir crazy."

Hence, the event was born as a reason for him to get out of his house. Town officials wanted it to become an annual tradition, but it quickly petered out.

"The mayor tried to keep it going, but really there aren't enough Phil Campbells in the world to keep going back to rural Alabama for a weekend," he said.

Banker Phil Campbell of Darlington, S.C., attended the inaugural event, which included a tour of the town and face-to-face meetings with town officials.

He had such a good time then that he's coming back for the sequel, although he remembered it was tricky to get someone's attention in a room full of people with the same name.

"We just called each other Phil and pointed to which one we wanted to talk to," he told AOL News.

Due to the damage inflicted by the storm, the contingent of Phil Campbells visiting the town haven't finalized their plans for their mid June weekend. But they've pledged to do volunteer work.

"It's an event that's continuously evolving," said Phil Campbell of Brooklyn. "It's going to emotional. We're going to do whatever the town wants us to do."

Visit the webpage set up by the Phil Campbell Convention for more information or to make a donation that will benefit Phil Campbell, Ala.

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