A new fund for local cancer patients is starting amid concerns that not enough of the money raised here for the American Cancer Society comes back to Kern County.
The Kern County Cancer Fund will help patients in need with everything from insurance costs to making ends meet, organizers said. Robin Mangarin-Scott, who has been a part of the fund's planning process, said it will help local families survive the financial toll of cancer.
After nearly two decades of promoting Relay for Life and other events that benefit the American Cancer Society, Mangarin-Scott said she was surprised to learn how little of that money returns to Kern County.
"We needed to do something to make sure that the patients are taken care of here at home," she said. "I'm not so sure that a lot of people realized just how much money (raised for the American Cancer Society)...went to the national organization for programs and research."
Bakersfield Relay for Life raised more than $2 million for the American Cancer Society this year. Exactly how much money typically comes back from Relay -- and how one would even calculate that -- is unclear.
The new cancer fund, which has been in the works for about a year, just got a big boost with the news that the proceeds from an upcoming November event -- the brainchild of a local businesswoman and powerhouse cancer fundraiser -- will go toward the fund and the money will be matched up to $1 million by the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center.
Leslie Knox, president of Advanced Industrial Services, decided to donate the proceeds of the company's annual Fight for Life fundraiser, a glitzy event that features mixed martial arts fights, an ice lounge and a concert, to the fund.
Over the last five years, the Fight for Life events raised close to or a little more than $1 million, said Robert Rice, AIS project manager and spokesman. The money raised from past events went to the American Cancer Society.
CBCC has donated more than $1 million to the American Cancer Society over the last eight years and gave close to $89,000 to the organization last year, according to Dr. Ravi Patel, managing partner and medical director of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center. He said that amount will probably decrease.
Bakersfield resident Christie Ray, team development mentor for Bakersfield Relay for Life and past chair, said local people benefit from the advocacy and research the American Cancer Society does.
"It may not be specific dollars that are here in town but people are specifically helped by that here in town," she said.
Ray said she isn't worried that concerns about where the American Cancer Society's money goes will impact Relay for Life locally.
"I'm not concerned at all because we've never, ever intimated that the money would stay here in Kern County," she said.
"I think our teams will be just as energized."
The new fund was in the planning stages before questions came up about how the American Cancer Society distributes money, Patel said. The fund will be overseen by an independent board and a patient assistance committee that also will review applications, Patel said.
The new fund was set up under the CBCC Foundation for Community Wellness but Patel stressed that the money will be available to Kern County cancer patients no matter where they receive treatment.
"We are very excited because there's nothing like this (in Kern County)," Patel said. "It truly happened so quickly because of Leslie Knox."
Patel and Mangarin-Scott said Knox's commitment has helped jump start the local fund, which won't be taking applications from patients until January.
"I think that (Knox) has a tremendous heart," Patel said. "She is interested in making sure that patients benefit and she is a very fair person by reason of that fact that she is willing to help a variety of causes."
Knox has been a top fundraiser for Bakersfield Relay for Life, bringing in $290,000 last year, according to Californian archives. Her company recently donated $2 million to San Joaquin Community Hospital's new cancer center, which is slated to open later this year.
Sitting in a conference room of Advanced Industrial Services' animal print-adorned office Wednesday afternoon, Knox said she plans to continue participating in Relay but wanted to be a part of something that would benefit local people who are struggling with cancer.
"We raise so much money here and so much is leaving and there's so many people that need help here," she said. "I'd like to do more for our community and bring everyone together."
Knox said the pressure is on to make this year's event a success with the promise of matching funds. She hopes 3,500 to 5,000 people come out. Tickets for the Nov. 10 gathering are $350, which includes food, and $1,500 for VIP tickets.
More information is available at www.fightforlifeevent.org.