BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A Bakersfield church hopes to give valley fever a voice with a Christmas concert this week.
New Life Center's Shake Up Christmas concert to benefit valley fever starts 7 p.m. Friday at Rabobank Theater. The concert will include a mix of Christmas contemporary, classic, country and rock music featuring singer Lydia Ranger and the band Lonely Avenue.
MORE ON VALLEY FEVER
The Californian and its partners in the Reporting on Health Collaborative have been reporting on the ongoing "Second Epidemic" of valley fever locally.
We've been exploring the startling rise of cases, the science of studying the disease, the high costs to patients and taxpayers, the weak federal and private interest in funding treatments and vaccines, and the public health response.
To read the "Just One Breath" series so far, go to www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/special-sections/just-one-breath.
The concert is free but donations will be collected for Valley Fever Vaccine Project of the Americas.
"The lights, the sound, it's a first-rate concert," said James Ranger, lead pastor for New Life Center.
The concert costs about $60,000 to pull off, of which the church covers half and sponsors help pick up the rest.
Ranger said he doesn't know how much the concert collects but that raising awareness, not cash, is the real goal. About 3,200 to 3,500 people are expected to attend, he said.
"I don't know that people really understand the seriousness of (valley fever) and the impact of it," Ranger said.
The pastor himself suffered through two bouts with valley fever, a disease caused by a fungus that lives in the soil of the Central Valley. Humans and animals contract the disease by inhaling spores.
"It was the most amazing, horrible fatigue I had ever experienced," Ranger said.
Both times he fought the fever, Ranger was out of work for six months. Now, hardly a week goes by that someone from his church doesn't approach him with a family member or loved one who was recently diagnosed.
He's been surprised by the lack of knowledge about the disease in an area where it is widespread.
"I just think as a city we are woefully unprepared," Ranger said. "I get why, because it's not a good PR for our valley."
The benefit concert has been going on for several years but New Life's crusade against valley fever won't end with the last song Friday. The church plans to start up a support group in January.
Ranger said the group will be open to non-church members and non-Christians but "obviously it's a faith-based thing.'
"We're not bible-thumpers by any means but we do believe in the power of prayer and the power of love," he said.