‘Neighbor Helping Neighbor’ in the Hardest of Times
Families struggling with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis already have plenty on their minds and hearts without having to worry about having enough money for gasoline, hotels, meals, or the myriad other costs incurred traveling to doctors and treatments. There are at least as many possible financial concerns as there are people diagnosed!
Wanting to assist Panola County people with hardship of travel expenses, a caring and compassionate group of Volunteers who have all been touched in some way by this horrible disease recently formed the Panola County Cancer Coalition, a non-profit charitable organization, 100 percent of whose funds go directly to people in Panola County who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Any Panola County resident who has been diagnosed is eligible to receive funds and can apply for funds once a year. This fund is accessible with or without insurance. All that is required is requesting an application from the Coalition by phone, e-mail, or mail, filling it out, and returning it along with information from a physician about the treatment regimen and location. The Coalition Board reviews each application and uses a specific formula (based mostly on need and how far away the treatment location is) for determining how much money each patient receives, and the patient has full control of how to spend the funds. In its first six months, the Coalition has been able to help 18 Panola County residents.
The original core group tasked with forming the Coalition included Tracy Anderson (president), Adam Wilson (vice-president), his wife Zina Wilson (secretary), Abby Booker (treasurer), Sherry Wilson, Sheila Bozeman, Ginger Hawkins, Joni Reed (current Board members), Brandi Moon, and Shelia Porter. A few months ago, Tiffany Stapleton joined the Board as the public relations and media coordinator.
“We had been talking for years about doing something that would allow every bit of the money raised to stay here and help people in our county,” says Tracy, “but we just didn’t know where to start. All of us had been very actively involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for 10 years, putting our hearts and souls in it. Relay was wonderful, but the community interest and participation in the event had waned in the last few years, and we were all just feeling it was time for something different. Sherry Wilson and Shelia Porter had heard about a group in Freestone County who had started their own non-profit, and we decided to contact them to see if they could offer some guidance to us on how to get started. We were very impressed with what they were doing and how they were doing it, and they were absolutely invaluable to us in getting started! We began the process of creating our own non-profit in December of 2017, and on March 20 of this year, we received news that we were an official tax-exempt non-profit and were able to start our fundraising efforts!”
The Coalition’s first official “event” fundraiser was Fiesta Bingo, held on August 25 at the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. About 100 people were expected to attend, but actual attendance was well over 200, with more than $8,000 raised. “It was a great evening,” says Tracy. “We had great food and lots of very nice prizes donated. We sold over $4,000 in one-dollar Bingo cards alone, and that’s a LOT of cards! We ran out and had to scramble to get some more! We were very crowded, but everyone had so much fun, and we were all very excited by the great turnout, the terrific prizes, and all the amazing help we received from so many volunteers! We decided to make it an annual event, and we are already on the calendar for the Carthage Civic Center next August 24!”
The organization is by law allowed two such events per year, but individuals and other organizations can have an unlimited number of events of their own and donate the proceeds to the Coalition. This year, Deadwood United Methodist Church donated the very sizable proceeds from their annual Linda Scott Memorial Volleyball Tournament. The Panola County Archery Club hosted a very successful archery tournament which is to become an annual event. Texas Home Health is putting together a Carthage High School Homecoming basket to raffle. Tracy says, “We will support and promote and help with any fundraiser anyone wants to do!”
With these events, and a large number of private and business donations of all amounts, the Coalition Board has been thrilled with the results of the first six months of fundraising. Tracy says, “We are amazed and humbled by the generosity of the people in Panola County. When we received our first substantial donation from Merket Farms from their holiday fundraising and a generous grant from the Charles Matthews Foundation, we got the boost we needed to really hit the ground running. There are very few, if any, families that have not been touched by this disease. My own sister died in 2007 at the age of 30 after her second battle with cancer, and my mother is a breast cancer survivor. We hate cancer and with Panola County’s support this fund will serve our residents who are battling cancer!
The possibilities for fundraising are limitless, and the Board is always looking for ideas. They are also hoping that other area groups will get creative with ideas for fun activities that can generate funds to donate to this “neighbor helping neighbor” organization. Restaurants and other businesses can also donate a percentage of their sales on a given day, and people can make donations as memorials for people who have died. Golf tournaments, softball tournaments, bbq cook-offs, and all kinds of other fun activities that engage the communities are welcomed, and not a dime leaves Panola County! The Coalition has t-shirts for sale through any Board member or at Kimberly’s Creations on the square. A recently-started Selfie Challenge asks people to take a selfie in their Coalition t-shirt and post it on the Coalition’s Facebook page. Once a month a drawing will be held from these entries for a free cheeseburger basket from Circle M restaurant.
Adam Wilson’s grandfather died from cancer when he was 18, and it was a devastating loss to Adam. (His father had eight siblings, and six of them—five brothers and a sister—had cancer.) “My grandfather was my hero,” he says. “Our family put together a small team for Relay for Life in his memory, then I got involved working with the planning team for the event. I just got ‘hooked’ on raising funds to help people with cancer, and it became a huge passion with me. It requires a lot of hard work, even more now than for Relay because it’s year-round, but I love it. And I really believe that from the beginning this whole effort was led by God. He has blessed us so tremendously in so many ways. Honestly, it seems like every time we have a need, the solution shows up. It’s been sort of eerily perfect!”
Adam adds that his granddaughter Caitlynn has been around the Coalition team so much that she claims to be a VPT—a Vice President in Training. He chokes up a little and says, “Her maternal grandmother was diagnosed very recently, and she asked me with her eyes full of tears, ‘Are y’all going to do something to help my Mimi?’ Well, yes, you can be SURE that we are going to help her Mimi! THAT is why we do this!”
Tracy concurs that a lot of hard work is required. “Every person on our Board has a great passion for this mission! We meet monthly to go over applications, to account for every penny that has been donated, to brainstorm and discuss ideas for fundraising, and to just act as a ‘design team.’ The same night of Fiesta Bingo, we were already thinking of what we would do next year. Most of us go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking of ‘Coalition things!’ It’s not something any of us take lightly. We take very seriously the trust this community is placing in us, and we will manage it well and take care of it and do what we say we are going to! Fortunately, all of our families and friends are very supportive and helpful to us, too!
The Coalition also provides a “care bag” for patients in addition to the money, filled with things that research has shown might help ease some of the symptoms and other difficulties incurred with taking chemo. The bags contain articles like Chapstick, hand sanitizer, lotion, peppermints, tea, crackers, adult coloring books, and puzzles.
The Board never shares the names of recipients or amounts given and wants everyone to be assured that all information is very confidential and private. However, some recipients send out public thanks that can be shared. One of them, Pam Kneipp, said, “I just want to say THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH from the Kneipp family. This will certainly help out so much with travels and rooms. And the thoughtfulness behind every little gift in the bag shows that someone who has BEEN THERE knows the need. I am just in the beginning of this journey and am overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and prayers. KEEP THEM COMING, and thanks again!”
Joni Reed, the person credited with having the original dream both for Relay for Life and for the Coalition, adds her sentiments, “Ten years ago, my vision was to help Panola County people who were battling cancer. I had lost a sister to cancer, I was a two-time survivor of cancer, and my daughter was a cancer survivor. I soon learned that nearly every family I knew had been affected by cancer, and I wanted to help local families going through it. So in 2008, we began—a group of people working together and becoming a family of our own, a unique group of ‘neighbors helping neighbors!’ We are all volunteers helping our very own Panola County people battling cancer. Those 10 years were wonderful, but to now be part of the Panola County Cancer Coalition is everything I envisioned 10 years ago! In a short period of time, we have already been highly blessed by this wonderful community. I want to thank each and every person and business who have donated, the PCCC Board for making this vision a reality, and most of all, my Lord and Savior.