It’s an emotion that often goes hand-in-hand with those affected by cancer.
Hope is foundation of the Relay for Life, the largest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and Montana’s credit unions have collectively made a substantial impact in recent years.
Maybe it’s because credit unions are financial cooperatives established 163 years ago to better the communities they serve. Maybe it’s because of the comaraderie that’s formed from walking in shifts around a track for 24-hours for the purpose of funding research. Or maybe it’s because most of us have been touched somehow by cancer.
Everybody has been affected by cancer,” said Ryan Combs, co-chair of the Altana Federal Credit Union Relay for Life team. “So many people pour their heart and soul into this fundraiser because they want to see a cure so badly that they are willing to whatever it takes.”
The American Cancer Society says that about 1,660,290 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, 5,450 of those in Montana. The disease is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. taking 1,600 lives every single day. This year 2,000 people are expected to die of cancer in Montana.
Fergus FCU has been involved with the Relay for Life since it began in Lewistown 11 years ago. Dixie Denton helps organize the event there. She lost her grandmother to breast cancer; her father had colon cancer; her aunt, lung cancer; and many friends have faced the disease.
“I think it’s easy for people to rally for the relay because almost everyone has been touched by cancer and we are praying for a cure,” she said. “Also it gives the survivors hope to for tomorrow.”
The Fergus FCU team has many events to raise funds including a Bunco tournament, bake sales, root beer float Fridays, picnics and raffles. Typically their efforts generate about $5,000 but their record for one year is $14,000.
The original Relay for Life started in 1985 with one man, Gordy Klatt, who wanted to show what someone fighting cancer endures. He ran around a track for 24 hours and raised $27,000. A year later, 340 supporters joined the overnight event and today it’s caught on worldwide. Thirty-four Montana communities are holding Relays this summer.
Relay for Life was started in Circle with the help of staff at McCone County FCU. This year there are 10 teams in the community that have already raised nearly $14,000; and the relay ace event isn’t until July 12, so that amount is likely to increase. This is the second year that McCone County FCU has had its own credit union team.
“It affects your entire family, not just the person suffering,” said Diane Brody, the team leader who knows first-hand because her husband had esophageal cancer.
She got involved with the team because of how management and the board treated her during that trying time in life.
“The credit union was so extremely understanding with the circumstances that I need to give back,” she said.
Fundraising efforts are varied and tailored to each community. Some have organized summer barbeques and gift-wrapping at the holidays with free-will donations. Others raffle trips or motorcycles. The Giant Springs Chapter of Credit Unions sponsored ice cream sales that every credit union participated in this year raising more than $1,800.
“It shows unity with our credit unions and support for our walkers,” Sue Cassell, marketing director at 1st Liberty FCU.
Lael Humble with Montana First FCU said the ice cream sales were a big hit.
“Members absolutely loved the opportunity to buy a cold treat on a warn day and help raise money for a good cause all at the same time,” she said. “We had a cancer survivor come through our drive up at MFCU and speak with our tellers about how much it meant to her to see us getting involved in this cause. I know that our staff had a great time participating in this--sending the ice cream bars out to members in the drive up tubes and even running them out to members in their vehicles.”
Humble said additional money raised was from other collected donations and book mark sales bringing the total to $2,750.
In Livingston, the Sky FCU Super Heroes Team is hoping to raise $2,000 this year. Staff at High Peaks FCU in Sheridan is on Team Rudy, which raised more than $9,500. In the past five years, Park Side FCU in the Flathead area has donated nearly $9,000 and Altana FCU in Billings more than $100,000.
Start adding up these numbers and it quickly becomes evident that Montana’s credit unions are making a huge collective contribution, which is just the cooperative nature.