It’s been a tough year for nonprofits. Most of their big fundraisers take place in the spring and early fall, but not this year. Group meetings are now virtual. It’s convenient but not much fun. Most of their offices are closed and staffs are working from home, which makes contacting a nonprofit for advice or a referral very challenging.
Four local nonprofits have decided to join hands to create the Kern Cancer Coalition. Jennifer Henry, the executive director for Links for Life, is one of the founding mothers of the coalition, which she said is a matter of need.
“We’re in a pandemic so we’re all in this together to help the cancer patients of Kern County,” she said. “It’s about coming together to benefit the cancer patients and getting more accomplished.”
Links for Life has a long-standing reputation among cancer patients. For women who are uninsured or underinsured, the organization provides mammograms, ultrasounds, needle biopsies and a grocery card program to assist breast cancer patients in active treatment. Also five support groups still meet to support each other.
“Our support groups are making do but they’re very excited to someday be able to be together and hug each other,” Henry said.
Michelle Avila, executive director of the Kern County Cancer Foundation, which provides financial assistance for patients' medical bills related to cancer treatment, agrees with Henry.
“We’ve supported each other’s organizations,” she said. “But because of the pandemic, we’re struggling to raise what we normally do because we weren’t able to have the events that we normally hold so we had to think outside the box. It just made sense to combine our systems of contacts to reach more people.”
“I suggested we contact Thumbs Up, Cancer Down and the Josh Farler Foundation. Now I get to work with people who are passionate about their organizations and their missions and that’s why we’ve come together,” Avila added.
For Mike Nipper, president of the Josh Farler Foundation, it started with family. His nephew, Josh, was going to Idaho State on a football scholarship when he experienced groin problems.
“A doctor diagnosed it as testicular cancer,” said Nipper. “Then there were insurance problems and his tumor burst with the cancer spreading throughout his body.”
Treatments at USC meant traveling to and from Nevada, usually through Bakersfield where his grandma lived. The family needed money for expenses, and so the Josh Farler family hosted a poker tournament in that grandma’s backyard.
“We raised around $16,000 to help, but unfortunately Josh passed away in 2005 before we could hold the second event, so we looked around and were able to help a young girl’s family from Josh’s hometown," Nipper said.
The third year, the group approached Avila, obtaining patient referrals from her.
“After a few years, we became a full-fledged nonprofit working with CBCC, the AIS Cancer Center and the Rio Bravo Cancer Center," Nipper said. "Our donations provide gas cards, travel vouchers and food cards that are for Kern County cancer patients only.”
Patients needing travel vouchers can apply on the website joshfarler.org
The newest member of the team is Thumbs Up, Cancer Down, co-founded by Kevin Charette.
“Actually we’re neighbors with Links for Life,” said Charette. “While looking for new office space, she and I started talking about how I could help her nonprofit and she could help ours, and her idea was the coalition."
Thumbs Up provides Power Up Packs to cancer patients in treatment with a blanket, a beanie for patients losing their hair, a phone charger and a diary and pen to keep track of appointments. COVID-19, however, has changed that too.
“Usually we leave them at the centers to hand out to their patients, but now we can be contacted through our website and we deliver the pack to them,” said Charette.
The coalition’s first group fundraiser is Jan. 20, 2021, at Compassion Corner, located on the intersection of 22nd and L streets in downtown Bakersfield. Henry said it will offer a deep pit barbecue sandwich, chips, a drink and a cookie for $15 per plate. Supporters can pay that day, masks are expected and all safety precautions will be in effect, and it goes to a great cause — actually, four.
Sylvia Cariker is on the Links for Life Board of Directors.