Virtual Walk of Hope set for Friday
By TIM TEDESCHI firstname.lastname@example.org
May 5, 2021
The format may again be different than usual, but the mission for Cancer Services of Grant County’s annual Walk of Hope fundraiser on Friday remains the same.
Cancer Services Executive Director Jennifer Lane-Riefler said after the pandemic forced the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year to go virtual last year, the decision was made again to hold the Walk of Hope in a virtual fashion this year in the interest of the safety of participants.
“People who have cancer have a much higher risk of getting COVID or getting serious side effects from COVID, and to bring cancer patients in a group with people who may or may not know if they even have it, exposing people to this may be causing an increase in the numbers here in the community,” Lane-Riefler said. “I just couldn’t do that and I still can’t, so it’s a different year, it’s a quiet year.”
Lane-Riefler said last year’s virtual event was aided in part by the fact that the typical Walk of Hope kickoff event went on as scheduled in January, with many teams forming and some momentum building for the event. That was not possible this year with the pandemic in full swing, but Cancer Services is still encouraging teams to form and make videos showing spirit and sharing about the individuals they are honoring, supporting or remembering by being a part of Walk of Hope.
The 2020 Walk of Hope raised about half of what was needed, Lane-Riefler said, and more support is needed this year to reach the organization’s goal. She said typically Walk of Hope will draw more than 4,000 people, but as of Wednesday only around 700 people had registered for this year’s virtual event. “We appreciate everybody who’s participating and we know that it’s so much more fun to do it in person and obviously it helps us more financially to do it in person, but hard choices are made and we do the best we can,” Lane-Riefler said. “We’ve still got some hard core people who are getting their teams and getting donations, and so we’re still blessed by folks. And so we decide to embrace and be grateful for what we have, grateful for those who continue to support and grateful for those people who have currently registered and our sponsors.”
Lane-Riefler said this year’s Walk of Hope theme is “Hope for a Better Tomorrow,” referring both to individuals with cancer diagnoses and the community and world in general as pandemic recovery continues.
The in-person Walk of Hope events are often emotional and “friend makers,” Lane-Riefler said, as families, friends and survivors walk to support their loved one currently battling cancer, to remember loved ones lost to cancer or to celebrate a triumph of being able to walk themselves after a cancer diagnosis. Just as they did last year, Cancer Services staff will complete the walk together physically to honor those who can’t be there in person on Friday.
“Not being able to be with a crowd and to look over at all those people and then see that it’s healthy and good for folks to be together and share their emotions that have to do with cancer, it’s tough,” Lane-Riefler said. “And it’s tough for those people who can’t walk because it’s virtual. It’s tough for those who would really like to be out there in that fresh air and take that mile.”
Cancer Services has worked in the community since 1959, Lane-Riefler said, offering a range of services for any individual with a cancer diagnosis regardless of age or financial situation. The nonprofit’s activities match whatever their clients need, including its free mammogram program, transportation to doctor’s appointments, financial help for prescriptions or other bills, food assistance and providing guidance for how to live with cancer, she said. “There’s no black or white lines here at Cancer Services to say this is all we do,” Lane-Riefler said. “Because everybody’s situation is different, their journey is different. So we take care of what people need us to take care of.”
Like every aspect of life, the pandemic changed the way Cancer Services operates, Lane-Riefler said, including meeting people in the parking lot at times and halting transportation services for a time to prevent the spread of COVID between volunteers and clients. Through a United Way loan, the organization also provided 500 bags of washable masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and other items to clients and patients being treated for cancer at Marion General Hospital, she said. “We’re still here and have been the whole time, working from home or when we opened the office, but completely providing the full service of whatever folks needed to help facilitate for them,” Lane-Riefler said.
The need for support for those with cancer has not stopped during the pandemic, as Lane-Riefler noted Cancer Services has registered 14 new clients in the last three weeks. She said clients are with Cancer Services for life for whatever they need as long as they have a need, and the organization typically actively serves between 500-600 clients each year.
Registration is still open for this year’s Walk of Hope through noon on Friday at www.grantcountycancer.org or at Cancer Services’ offices. Individuals can register up to eight people at a time, including registrations for “angel walkers” that honor people who have passed due to cancer. Registration is $5 per individual, and T-shirts are also available for purchase.
Lane-Riefler said recognition for biggest team, spirit award and largest online donor will still be awarded. All participants are encouraged to have fun and post videos on Facebook with their teams.
Lane-Riefler said planning has already begun for an in-person Walk of Hope in 2022, with staff looking forward to being able to resume the physical interaction and community building the event brings.