Anoka, Minn., is a town of fewer than 20,000, yet it has the fourth largest St. Jude Walk/Run fundraising goal in the nation and the largest in Minnesota.
We at ALSAC (the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude) see this a lot — small towns rallying around the St. Jude mission. Places like Minden, La., and Chillicothe and Peoria, both in Illinois, have the largest per capita fundraising programs in the country. Many of them also have a personal connection to a current St. Jude patient or patients who have passed away as a result of childhood cancer. Under these conditions, love and empathy become local.
Such is the case with Anoka, where the entire town rallies around #7. That was the number on the football jersey worn by Dylan Witschen of the Anoka Tornadoes. By all accounts, Dylan was a leader on and off the field. He was a friend to the friendless in the unforgiving terrain of the high school cafeteria and a game-day motivator in the locker room.
In 2010, Dylan lost his life to an aggressive brain tumor at 16 years old, despite many rounds of radiation and chemotherapy at St. Jude. But his memory lives on. It lives on through his parents, his teammates, friends and those who didn’t even know him. Each year a senior football player is chosen to wear #7, and that touching and fitting tribute helps keep Dylan’s memory and his optimistic spirit alive.
His mom said, “I think that is every parent’s worst fear is that people are going to forget your kid, so it is really cool.”
Dylan’s parents began fundraising for St. Jude after Dylan’s passing. This is one of the most inspiring facets of the St. Jude mission for all of us at ALSAC: that bereaved parents continue to support St. Jude. We’ve seen it in Minden, Chillicothe, Peoria and dozens of other communities across the map, and it means so much to all of us.
Such is the spirit, love and generosity behind Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the 63 St. Jude Walk/Run events around the country this month. Through memories of those lost and in celebration of lives saved, thousands come together every September to participate in events that spread the awareness and raise the funds so desperately needed to take our mission to the world.
There will be 400,000 new cases of childhood cancer globally this year, and St. Jude is at the forefront of the fight, working to connect governments, healthcare institutions and nonprofit foundations around the world. The mission of St. Jude is a unifying one, whether in the Middle East or among residents of a small town in the Midwest.
Fall is the season of reflection, and in Anoka, Minnesota, friends, family and neighbors are lacing up their shoes to walk and run for St. Jude. It’s the way they remember and celebrate #7, and it’s a connection to communities across the country.
Help our families focus on their sick child, not medical bills.
When you donate, your gift means families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.