Health

Monday, Dec 16 2013 07:08 PM

Competition for cancer donations heats up with announcement of April event

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

It's a spring sleepover event built on fundraising teams, friendly competition and honoring cancer survivors, and those who have died from the disease.

It sounds a lot like Relay for Life, but it's not.

Related Info

Helping local patients

A breakdown of where Kern County Cancer Fund beneficiaries have been treated.

Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center -- 63

Kern Medical Center --11

San Joaquin Community Hospital -- 2

Dr. Vinh-Linh Nguyen -- 2

Pharmacy/prescription aid -- 4

Mercy & Memorial Hospitals -- 4

Kaiser Permanente -- 2

UCLA -- 2

Source: CBCC Foundation for Community Wellness

The Kern County Cancer Foundation, a charitable endeavor that helps local cancer patients cover their treatment expenses, is planning an April fundraiser similar to the Relay for Life extravaganza held in Bakersfield each May.

Organizers unveiled their plans for the "Campout Against Cancer" at a news conference Monday on the lawn of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center (CBCC) in Bakersfield. The cancer fund is run through the nonprofit CBCC Foundation for Community Wellness.

The cancer fund launched in October 2012 after some locals became disenchanted with the American Cancer Society -- the nonprofit behind Relay for Life -- citing concerns that much of the money raised here does not stay in Kern County.

In its first year, the fund banked more than $1.3 million and committed more than half a million dollars to 90 local cancer patients -- 70 percent of whom are CBCC patients.

Michelle Avila, the foundation's executive director, said the number of CBCC patients may seem lopsided but the majority of newly diagnosed cancer patients in Kern County are treated at CBCC and numerous applications for assistance come in from the center.

Bakersfield hosts one of the largest Relay events in the nation, but some major supporters within the last year redirected their donations to the cancer fund. Most noticeably, local company Advanced Industrial Services, a longtime supporter of Relay, donated earnings from its flashy Fight for Life fundraiser to the new cancer fund.

Last spring's Relay raised about $1.6 million, more than a half million dollars less than the prior year's event. It was the first time in more than a decade that the event didn't surpass the previous year's total.

The American Cancer Society's Bakersfield Relay for Life will be held May 3 and 4. The Kern County Cancer Foundation campout will be held April 4 and 5.

Like Relay, the campout will have an overnight element. Teams will be invited to set up campsites on April 3, a Friday afternoon, and the next morning gather for breakfast followed by a day of games.

Instead of walking, attendees will play one of the three summer camp-style group games, called challenges. Instead of luminaries, participants can buy lanterns to commemorate people who have passed away.

The cancer fund event will culminate Saturday evening with a program honoring survivors.

TWO NONPROFITS

Despite the similarities and close dates of the two events, volunteers from the cancer fund and relay had only good things to say about each other following Monday's announcement.

"Truly, Kern County is blessed to have both of these events here," said Sheryl Gallion, a board member for the cancer fund and co-chair for the campout, who is also a three-time past chair for Relay for Life.

Mary Gillette, co-chair of the campout's team recruitment committee and past leader for Relay, said she views the two organizations as partners.

"The Relay for Life focuses on research and without research, the treatments that we have today wouldn't even exist. So this (event) is not to detract from what they do (and) it's not to detract from the funds that they raise," Gillette said, adding that the campout is an opportunity for people who give money to directly help local people.

"The more people we reach, whether it's through Relay or another community event, I think it can all have a positive impact on the supporting community that Bakersfield is," said Dana Fabbri, communication chair on Relay's executive steering committee.

Fabbri said last year's controversy helped local American Cancer Society volunteers hone the nonprofit's goals to better explain the group's mission.

"It really made us focus on the fact that cancer research is the heart of our mission and that nearly every cancer patient and survivor in this county has benefited either directly or indirectly from the work of the American Cancer Society," Fabbri said.

The campout has been the works for about a month and organizers are narrowing down locations, looking at holding the event at Garces Memorial High School in east Bakersfield or State Farm Sports Village, located on Taft Highway between Ashe and Gosford roads in south Bakersfield.

Information about how to sign up or sponsor the campout is available online at campoutagainstcancer.org. Registration is $150 for a team and team members are encouraged to raise at least $100 each.

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