Festival benefits breast cancer research

by Alan Hodge

Anne Barwick, one of the event’s organizers, dressed as Pippi Longstocking to celebrate the day. The Charlotte Fire Department brought their Engine #90, also known as the “Pink Lady,” to join in on the fun. The department uses the fire engine to support breast cancer awareness efforts. (Alan Hodge/MIM photo)

For several years, residents and children in the Mountain Island community of Overlook have looked forward to their neighborhood’s annual fall festival and the tricks and treats that come with the Halloween season.

While the neighborhood still teamed with ghosts, goblins and ghouls during the Oct. 29 event, organizers decided to give this year’s festivities a great purpose: raising funds for breast cancer research.

“The festival used to be about a pony ride and candy,” said Sean Gay, one of the festival’s many organizers. “This year, it’s a whole different ball game.”

Like most communities throughout the United States, many Overlook residents have experienced the traumas and challenges that cancer brings, whether they have battled the disease themselves, helped care for a loved one undergoing therapy or experienced the loss of a close friend or family member. The American Cancer Society estimated that by the end of 2011, 230,480 U.S. women will be diagnosed with a new case of invasive breast cancer.

“Many families in our community have been affected by cancer in one way or another, and several of us have even felt the loss of loved ones,” said Overlook resident Rob Solarchik in an email.

Funds generated from the day’s festivities were donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., a group that helps fund free mammograms for women who could not otherwise afford them and research facilities throughout the county. Breast cancer survivor and Overlook resident Jessica Snelson, who also worked the festival’s ticket table, said she felt touched that her fellow neighbors cared enough to rally around a cause so near to her heart.

“I’m overwhelmed with the support from my community,” Snelson said. “When I found out the money from this event was going to breast cancer, I was speechless.”

Snelson was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, underwent surgery in April and began chemotherapy in May. Despite having finished her last radiation treatment only a week before the festival, Snelson was a bundle of energy as she worked the ticket table.

“It’s been quite a journey,” she said.

Although this is the neighborhood’s first charity event of this magnitude, residents also have actively supported groups that fund brain tumor research and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that works to fund a cure for childhood cancer.

The donated money was generated through ticket sales and a silent auction that featured pink and white basketballs signed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill women’s basketball coach and breast cancer awareness advocate Sylvia Hatchell, a Star Wars action toy, toolset and basket of Microsoft products.

The Overlook Homeowner’s Association helped cover the event’s cost, as well as sponsors Boar’s Head, Rannucci’s Barbecue, McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, Know Your Farms, Good Karma Alpaca Ranch and more.

Although the event raised money for a serious cause, festival-goers still enjoyed their share of Halloween silliness and revelry. The festival drew hundreds of kids and adults who enjoyed games, food and fellowship with their neighbors. Even Fred Flintstone, an Egyptian mummy and a dog wearing a pink tutu strolled the neighborhood’s streets.

Around 5 p.m., the Charlotte Fire Department showed up with its Engine #90, also known as the “Pink Lady.” The department uses the bright pink engine as a public relations tool to raise breast health awareness.

Overall, residents, such as Snelson, said they felt impressed by their neighbors’ empathy and generosity.

I couldn’t be more proud to be in this neighborhood,” she said.

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