By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Anyone who has experienced cancer or has a loved one who has experienced cancer will tell you that it is not just an experience for the patient but for their entire family as well.
Four years ago a very small group of just five people were determined to make a difference and to keep their fundraising efforts available to cancer patients locally.
Debbie Thompson was one of those determined people. She had been heavily involved in Relay for Life events for a number of years, but that just wasn’t enough.
“I was among those five people who got together to organize ‘Wings of Hope’, a completely volunteer organization that formed to assist local cancer patients with their needs. It was important to us that the money we would raise would stay right here so that patients in this area who were being treated here would benefit from the donations we contributed,” Debbie said.
In 2013, ‘Wings of Hope’ was launched with just five volunteers. Today, there are twenty volunteer members helping with this effort. And they are making a difference.
“Typically, we have two major fundraisers each year. We host a bingo event and participate in ‘Purchase With A Purpose” that allows our organization to keep every single penny we make through ticket sales and put it to use right here at home. We will soon be hosting a Krispy Kreme donut sale … and we also sell t-shirts and sweatshirts all year round,” she added. “We are very proud to raise approximately $10,000+ annually!”
‘Wings of Hope’ has become a part of United Health Foundation; they are chartered and completely legitimate, and now work as a part of United Hospital Center.
“All of us who are a part of ‘Wings of Hope’ are working people, so we understand that many who might like to volunteer to help our organization don’t really have time to attend a lot of meetings,” Debbie continued. “But the nice thing is they don’t have to be burdened with making arrangements to attend a lot of regular meetings. A few of us meet every other week with the oncology staff at UHC where we are informed of the needs of patients; then our funds help fill those needs.”
She explained how that funding is utilized. For example, funds purchase gas cards to aid families with fuel costs as they travel to and from treatment appointments.
Cancer treatment may affect a patient’s ability to earn an income, so Wal-Mart gift cards are also distributed if needed to help lessen a family’s burden.
Funds may also help with prescription costs, utility bills, or even the purchase of wigs. ‘Wings of Hope’ funds have helped a couple of times when families could not meet their rent payment as well.
“UHC’s Cancer Center services folks from 14 counties, so many of these affected families may have to travel some distance, and if treatments are scheduled on consecutive days, they really can’t afford to go back and forth from far away,” Debbie added. “Wings of Hope has partnered with Wingate and we have arranged for no cost or low cost hotel rooms in cases like these. We feel really good about what we are doing and how we are helping families to get through what can be an overwhelming experience.”
Patients complete a ‘Wings of Hope’ application and the information provided tells them what they can do for a patient/family and what their needs are.
“We always need volunteers – particularly when we host our fundraisers. Attending meetings is not as important as having extra arms and legs to help us with these events,” Debbie said.
Thompson said they are very grateful to those who have generously made donations in the past when they have discovered how Wings of Hope lends support to local patients.
“Nearly everyone today has or has had some experience with this disease. They have either been personally affected or a loved one or co-worker or neighbor or friend has had cancer. They know how burdensome the expense can be, and our help, we feel, can help them focus more on healing and trying to overcome cancer, she explained.
‘Wings of Hope’ is now in the process of have some special cards made that will be distributed to local funeral homes. Whether a family has lost a loved one to cancer or not, many today, instead of receiving floral arrangements, would rather note in obituary notices … “in lieu of flowers …” and they ask that a donation be made to an entity or organization in their loved one’s memory.
“Local funeral homes will soon be making our cards available to families they serve, and we hope that some may choose this alternative and ask that memorial donations be made to ‘Wings of Hope’,” Thompson concluded. “It is a wonderful way to help others get through the treatment process, and donors know that these contributions stay right here in our area. The funding that our organization provides can relieve a terrific burden from patients so they can focus on overcoming cancer. And as our funding increases, that means more needs we can help to fulfill.”
If you have questions regarding ‘Wings of Hope’, you may contact the hospital at 681-342-1499 or call Debbie Thompson at 304-677-3702. Tax deductible contributions may be mailed directly to: ‘Wings of Hope’, 327 Medical Park Drive, Bridgeport, WV 26330.