#ToLife #BreastCancer #Pumpkins #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM — While pumpkins usually pop up around October for Halloween, within the past two weeks, local businesses across Bethlehem and Saratoga have received pink, not orange, pumpkins at their doorsteps for free. While a captivating sight, it carries a serious message.
The roughly 130 pink pumpkins originated from To Life!, a local nonprofit organization which offers free education and support services for women battling breast cancer. It has offices in both Delmar and Saratoga. Bethlehem-based businesses that received pink pumpkins included Swifty’s, Garden Bistro, Rain Hair Studio, Normanside Country Club, Stram Center for Integrative Medicine, Upstate Wine and Spirits, Hannaford and Delmar Bistro.
The pumpkins are meant to remind the public that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—pink is the color associated with the cause— as well as encourage women to get screened and learn more about the disease. They also serve as a reminder to remember those who died from it and celebrate those who have survived.
Eileen Howe Bird, executive director of To Life!, said that while the pumpkins add a “whimsical” visibility to the cause, she did not want them to be sold for a price. “We want to make it easy and engaging and start a conversation,” she explained. “We don’t want to make it about a transaction.”
She also said that the state Cancer Registry — which has key statistics and information about cancer in general, statewide incidence data, and rates by year, ethnicity and age — recently reported that there are over 4,300 breast cancer survivors in Albany County now.
“That’s a big number and the news in breast cancer is that many more people are being treated successfully because October being pushed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month has had its effect over the years,” she added. “It shows that people are getting screened and getting better access to screening. Therefore, cancers are being caught earlier with a much higher treatment success.”
She did note that even with this success, there are still people who are not aware of the disease and how important it is to catch early on. She wants people to take the initiative to take better care of themselves.
The state Cancer Registry also reported that from 2011-2015 in the city of Albany, there were 73.8 annual cases of breast cancer on average and 152.6 out of every 100,000 females have it.
Prudence Chapman, To Life!’s development manager, said that the whole pink pumpkins project was an “engaging community effort,” attracting around 50 volunteers and several local businesses.
Bird noted that Chapman recruited painting volunteers from both Bethlehem Central High School’s community service-oriented Key Club, and from a general outreach via email and Facebook.
“The volunteers also get very excited about this initiative, it extends beyond the local businesses,” Chapman said. “They were really thrilled to have an opportunity to not only come and paint, but to bring them to the businesses, too. The feedback we’ve received from the volunteers has been so positive and they’d say how much fun it is to deliver them.”
In Bethlehem, the pumpkins were donated from local businesses including Hannaford, Robinson Hardware and Garden Center, and Indian Ladder Farms. Crossfit Spur, located in Glenmont, donated its space for a “painting pumpkin party” and recruited some volunteers of its own. To Life! also had volunteers paint pumpkins in its own office building in Delmar. In Saratoga, Hannaford, The Fresh Market and Sunnyside Gardens donated pumpkins while its regional YMCA allowed another “painting pumpkin party” there. In both areas, paint was donated by Sherwin-Williams.
This year marks the seventh year in Bethlehem and the third year in Saratoga for the pink pumpkin project. Both Bird and Chapman said that the overall response from both areas has also been positive, too.
“We’re at that point where some local businesses even call us in advance and ask us when the pumpkins would arrive. They’re that excited,” Chapman said.
Beyond the pumpkins, the organization addresses the disease by hosting workshops during which Martha McCormick, the Director of Education at To Life!, goes to businesses and teaches classes about how to maintain breast health. To Life! also offers several support groups which Chapman said is nice for women to have a space to talk to others going through the same thing.
To Life! also has a boutique at each of its offices where women undergoing hair loss, not necessarily from just breast cancer, can shop for wigs of various colors, hats and scarves, and are encouraged to have a loved one join them for support.
To Life! will host its main event of the year, its black-tie Pink Ball, on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6:45 p.m. at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs. The event will highlight both To Life’s 20th anniversary and community leaders who have helped women struggling with breast cancer. Proceeds from the event will fund the organization’s programs and services.
For more information about the Pink Ball or To Life! in general, visit www.tolife.org.