08/26/05 — Birthday party recognizes patient advocate

View Archive

Birthday party recognizes patient advocate

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on August 26, 2005 1:45 PM

What started out as a few friends taking their pennies to a benefit birthday dinner has turned into a big fundraiser to help local cancer patients.

Four years ago, Helen Harwood, patient advocate at the Southeastern Medical Oncology Center, was turning 60 and wanted to do something special.

"I thought most people celebrate their 60th birthday; it's an accomplishment," Mrs. Harwood said. "And once you get cancer, you always appreciate another year."

Mrs. Harwood has been a cancer survivor for more than 20 years.

She decided to have a benefit dinner to raise money to help cancer patients. That first dinner raised $2,500.

It was such a success and so much fun that Mrs. Harwood wanted to make it a yearly event each birthday.

This year about 100 cancer patients, friends and family, church family and others who have heard about the event attended Mrs. Harwood's benefit birthday dinner and took pennies in jars, bottles, plastic containers and baskets. The total amount raised was $3,300. Of that amount, $982.77 was in pennies.

A cancer patient was the speaker and there was entertainment by New Harvest, a gospel group.

"All the food was donated so all the money we raised went to help cancer patients," Mrs. Harwood said.

Money raised from the dinner goes to the Pennies From Angels Fund, which helps cancer patients with unmet needs such as medication, food, gas to treatments.

"It's not an ongoing project for one patient," Mrs. Harwood said. "It's to help them get through that toughest time until they can get onto another program."

The fund started in 1993 when Mrs. Harwood's sister and brother-in-law were killed instantly in a car accident. They had saved pennies for several years in a big jar.

Nothing was done with that jar of pennies until one day Mrs. Harwood was helping a boy who had a brain tumor. She was in contact with the boy's mother off and on, and one day the mother called Mrs. Harwood to tell her that the Make A Wish Foundation was sending the family to Disney World.

Mrs. Harwood found out the boy needed a pair of sneakers. There were just enough pennies in that jar to buy the boy a pair of sneakers, she said.

That was the beginning of Pennies From Angels, which is now a nonprofit group.

The sky is the theme for Pennies From Angels because when Mrs. Harwood's sister and brother-in-law were killed, there was a roll of film in their camera that contained a picture of just the blue sky with white clouds.

Mrs. Harwood said the goal for this year for the fund is to get $3,000 in pennies.