Gilroy’s not the biggest weapon in the battle against cancer, but the city has become something of a little giant when it comes to fundraising for research and support for the survivor community—with a little help from friends.
In fact, of the eight incorporated cities in south Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, only Relay for Life of Gilroy has raised $2 million or more, according the American Cancer Society.
Two years ago, the group exceeded $2 million, reaching a total after 17 years of fundraising of $2,102,898.48. It has about 450 registered members.
That is seven years after reaching $1 million. When the relay kicks off on June 25, the goal is to add $90,000 to that total.
The effort received a lot of moral support on April 9 when more than 50 people gathered for the chapter’s annual Survivors’ Brunch during the ACS’s yearly fundraising campaign that starts in September and runs through August. Attending were survivors, family members, caregivers and others who support the campaign, often year after year.
Like every year, the brunch was held at downtown’s Old City Hall Restaurant, one of three chapter get-togethers that owners Fran and Bobby Beaudet host annually, providing food and use of their staff and upstairs dining hall, all for free to help in the fight against an illness they know all too well.
“Everybody is so kind and you know they want to be there; it’s the whole sense of community.” said Kerie Caliri, a 23-year cancer survivor and a regular at the brunches and relay.
Of the Beaudets, she said, “I commend them and God bless them for everything they do, they are wonderful people.”
The Beaudets’ contributions began as an outgrowth of similar efforts by Fran Beaudet with her employer, Carl’s Jr., in Salinas, where she is a director of operations—and support for a best friend, Gloria MacVicar, who battled breast cancer for 15 years before her death in 2015.
Fran Beaudet’s father and daughter also are cancer survivors, the latter diagnosed four years ago, she said.
Helping in the fight, she added, “is dear to my heart.”
Leah Arceneaux, community manager for the ACS’s Relay for Life California Division, works closely with chapter head Lisa Perez and others to promote and stage the relay event and manage the yearlong campaign.
The Gilroy chapter is unique among other cities in the region in its ability to raise money, Arceneaux said.
“Gilroy is the ONLY one [in the area] to have raised $2 million in its history,” Arceneaux wrote in an email. “Santa Cruz is close—if they hit $175,000 raised this year they will hit $2 million, but Gilroy hit it in 2014.”
Perez attributes the chapter’s success to Gilroy’s sense of community, to access to Christmas Hill Park with its free power supply for lighting for all the overnight campers who attend, and to supporters such as the Beaudets.
In addition to the Survivors’ Brunch, the Beaudets host and pick up the tab for Relay for Life’s annual January kickoff dinner and June pancake breakfast, the latter a fundraiser, at no cost to the chapter.
“Oh my gosh, that means a huge amount for us, the opportunity to provide events for our relayers, to come out and be able to socialize and not having to put out money, it’s networking,” said Perez, 50, the mother of three girls.
Her relay team, the Perez Fighters, is one of an estimated 40-plus that will participate this year.
The June 25-26 Community Walk Against Cancer starts at 10 a.m. at Christmas Hill Park, 7049 Miller Avenue in Gilroy.
During the rest of the year, teams hold their own fundraising events. For the Perez Fighters, a bake sale is coming up and later a golf tournament.
But it’s not only the Beaudets and Perez and her committee that make the local chapter so potent in its efforts to support cancer survivors and their families and caregivers, it’s the entire community, according to the group.
The June 25 Relay for Life is expected to draw from 500 to 1,000 participants and team members, according to Manuel Haro, the group’s online chair.
Arceneaux declined to give a number of cancer patients for the region, citing federal HIPAA laws.
However, Carillo said that for 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the expected number of new cases was 7,270 and the expected number of deaths was 2,360 in Santa Clara County.
Those numbers were 235 and 1,190 new cases in San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, respectively, and 70 and 375 for deaths in those counties.
ACS literature indicates that research is paying off; it reports that cancer deaths are down 22 percent since 1991, meaning 1.5 million lives have been saved over that period.
The ACS effort to help cancer patients and survivors and raise money for research involves 2.5 million volunteers, according to the organization.
If you are interested in helping or registering for the Relay for Life, contact Perez at (408) 806-5604.