Kate Zarnay tells the crowd about her son's cancer and how PopCares has helped her family.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — PopCares has proved a powerful force in helping local residents dealing with cancer, largely thanks to the outpouring of support from a community that's raised more than a half million dollars over the past eight years.
On Saturday, that generosity was on full display as some 600 or so attended the annual chicken dinner fundraiser held for the third year at Greylock Works and catered by David Nicholas of Bounti-Fare.
The charity was founded by the family of William "Pop" St. Pierre, who died of cancer in 2012, both to memorialize his kindness and to help other families suffering from the disease.
"Cancer does not just come for us physically, it comes for us emotionally, mentally, and financially as well. When cancer comes for you, it comes for your whole family and all who love you," said Kate Zarnay, whose son Jacob has been battling cancer on several fronts since infancy. "The reality is adequate treatment options do not exist for Jacob, and many people fighting cancer locally, especially children."
Zarnay said she has struggled to support Jacob while still maintaining a level of normalcy for him and his three youger sisters. But they also live 130 miles away from Jacob's life-saving treatment. When he began chemotherapy again earlier this year, she said, it was clear that "home was a vital and strong medicine for him — traveling 260 miles a day was not an option."
Then, one day, there was a letter in the mailbox from PopCares with a check to lift an immediate burden and words that meant they were not alone. "Those words knocked the wind right out of me," Zarnay said. "I read on, 'raised here, stays here' ...
"The funds that were sent to us were raised in the Berkshires and meant to stay here. And so are my children. With the support of an entire community, it would stay that way. We would find a way or make a way for Jacob to get the care he needed, and to keep our family together as much as possible."
As Jacob went through the pain of his treatment, his friends and the larger community offered unwavering support and compassion. In addition to PopCares, giving by local businesses, individuals and the Jimmy Fund had made it possible to get Jacob to his appointments at Boston Children's Hospital and eat Jack's Hot Dogs, and for his sister to participate in extracurricular activities.
Zarnay lost a dear friend to leukemia when she was 17 and his mother had written her a letter thanking her for her kindness and love because those simple acts "could even take away the pains of cancer."
"This precedent has been set, and inspired throughout this community by PopCares," Zarnay said. "The challenges have not stopped, but neither has the unwavering love of PopCares, or the love and generosity they inspire throughout this community. Our family has experienced incredible acts of love and kindness this year from this community. ...
"So tonight, I'm here to thank you all for loving my son. And to pass on the message that acts of love and kindness can truly make a difference. Thank you PopCares, and thank you all for loving my son and my family through our darkest days. Please know when you give to PopCares, you aren't just making a donation, you are making a difference."
Bob St. Pierre said his father never gave up but wanted to be home as his illness progressed. And there he took his last breaths, surrounded by family.
"He did it on his own terms. He never gave up. Those words, 'I'm not giving up,' gave me the courage to stand here in front of 600 people to tell his story," St. Pierre said. "Tonight we are here to honor him by continuing to help people in our community battling cancer. As PopCares grows, we need your support, even more. So it's OK to spend $400 or $500 on a plate of whoopie pies They will taste great. I guarantee that."
The dinner is a the major fundraiser for the charity and attendees quickly bid up desserts into the hundreds of dollars and even more for some of the larger packages for building, home and construction, a signed Bruins shirt, vacation stays and priceless metal sculptures. There was also a silent auction, chinese auction and raffles and Mike St. Pierre donated a check for $1,750 from a golf tournament.
Bill St. Pierre said the charity had disbursed more than $100,000 just this past year.
"Helping others and he makes me smile. I'm assuming it does the same to everyone in this room, because no one is here for themselves," he said. "Today they are here to spend their hard-earned money to help others in need. With the help everyone in this room, our community and sponsors, we were able to give out $115,000 this year. Since our inception we gave out $547,000 to 855 recipients."
Kelli Kozak accepts the Community Award on behalf of MountainOne.
The charity also recognized MountainOne with its Community Award for its support over the years and presented the Henry Bounds Spirit of Kindness Award to Patricia Mancuso, a family friend and PopCares volunteer.
The Williams College retiree and owner of the former Beach on Florida Mountain raised three children on her own, working full time and singing in a band. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she continued working, bowling and driving herself to all 29 radiation treatments. She's now going through chemotherapy again.
"She is a smart, dedicated, strong woman that I admire very much," Tammy St. Pierre said. "She is without a doubt one of the strongest, most caring, loving and toughest people that I know."
Mancuso joked they'd almost adopted her — "Patty Mancuso St. Pierre" — and said she'd bawled her eyes out when she became a recipient of PopCares.
"We at PopCares, want to help you find that courage and hope and strength that carry you through," said St. Pierre. "And we wouldn't be able to do that without all of you."
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