Bakersfield's Relay for Life is known as the biggest in the world. But, the next one might be smaller. That's due to a shift of support of sorts of cancer patient care in Kern County. 17 News has learned large donors to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life are forming their own organization called the Kern County Cancer Fund. While they support the research the American Cancer Society does, they feel the money raised in Kern County should directly help people here and they found the majority raised for the American Cancer Society does not come back.
Every year, thousands circle a Bakersfield track for Relay for Life. Every step, every dollar, every person makes goes to the American Cancer Society's fight against cancer. It's why for the last 8 years, the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center has contributed nearly $800,000 to the local effort.
"The Relay for Life is an excellent program," said Dr. Ravi Patel with the CBCC. "We also believe that the American Cancer Society does good work nationally and we are going to continue to support their program but we want to certainly send the message that we want to send a lot more of our support to to the local people in the community."
Dr. Patel and CBCC is sending that message by swinging the majority of their support to a still forming Kern County Cancer Fund. All of the money raised will stay in the community to help local cancer patients and their families pay for the cancer treatment process. The idea came from Leslie Knox and organizers of "Fight for Life." For the last 4 years, they've donated all of the money raised at the event to the American Cancer Society. Last year, that was $350,000. However, this year, money raised will go to the new Kern County Community Cancer Fund.
"It was just the next step in the evolution," said Robert Rice with the "Fight for Life." "She just thought it would be great to be able to take that money and put it right here local and be able to help folks local that were struggling with financial needs."
Needs, the CBCC says struggle to be met even with the millions raised at Bakersfield fundraisers for the American Cancer Society. So the CBCC asked the ACS where the approximately $3-million raised locally in 2011 was going. They found of the millions of local dollars donated, less than $73,000 came back to Kern County cancer patients.
"When I found out what the numbers were," said Robin Mangarin-Scott, a board member on the new Kern County Cancer Fund, "As someone who's been working in the community for cancer patients an their families for decades, it was surprising to say the least."
The American Cancer Society would not comment on the issue, saying they weren't aware of this development. But, the CBCC claims the ACS spends the majority of its money on cancer research and researchers. While they admit that's beneficial, the founders of the Kern County Cancer Fund believe there are those struggling with the disease, here and now, that need the money their fund will provide.
"A family member has to lose a job, for example to take care of that patient, they don't have to worry about not only paying the bill, but paying their mortgage or paying their power bills, paying for the gas that it takes to provide for that care. Those needs will be met now through the Kern County Cancer Fund," said Mangarin-Scott.
"They can go to any cancer center they can go to any resource that they want. The funds are there for the community of the patients," said Dr. Patel.
Dr. Patel says the CBCC will still contribute to Bakersfield's Relay for Life, but their donation will be scaled down. Instead, CBCC has decided to focus its funding on the Kern County Cancer Fund starting with this year's "Fight for Life" event.
"We've had Ravi Patel come through and say, "Hey, I like what you do. You guys do a great job and I like the shift to the community and whatever you raise I'm going to match it dollar for dollar up to a million dollars, which to us, that was like, wow," explained Rice.
It could mean the new fund would start with $2-million going towards helping local cancer patients. And, it gives those wanting to fight cancer an option on where they decide to give, either to the new local fund or to the American Cancer Society events.
"Individuals in the community who are willing to give can independently decide what they feel is best and what meets the hearts and minds of the community members," said Dr. Patel.
"Here, locally, we can do something and Relay for Life doesn't necessarily keep the funds here local so we want to have a little shift to that. Not that we are pulling away from that. We just want to do something here that helps folks here," said Rice.
The American Cancer Society's spokesperson, Brenda Godbold, says she will comment once they meet with all of the parties involved. The Kern County Cancer Fund is still in the process of forming a council of local medical professionals, community leaders, and patient advocates.
Organizers plan to be up and running by January of next year. For more information, visit: http://fightforlifeevent.org