True value of ‘Community Chest’ shared

Supporters of the fifth-annual “Community Chest” benefit dinner here Sunday night got a firsthand account of how the charity truly helps those in the district facing medical emergencies.
Before a crowd of some 280 people, local resident Lauren McCoy related her tale of a harrowing illness—and the power of hope in her fight to recover.
McCoy developed toxic epidermal necrolysis in November, 2002 after having an adverse reaction to antibiotics prescribed to her.
The rare condition caused her limbs to swell and skin to blister. Eventually, 85 percent of her skin sloughed off as if she had been severely burned all over her body.
She was whisked off to Winnipeg for treatment as her condition rapidly worsened over a matter of days after being prescribed the antibiotic.
There, she was wrapped completely in bandages and spent five weeks in a burn victim unit, then another two beyond that receiving medication to reverse her condition and heal.
During this time, McCoy lost her voice, her sense of taste, her eye lashes and eye brows, fingernails, and temporarily her eyesight due to the condition.
“My family made supreme sacrifices to travel to Winnipeg to see me,” she noted, adding they would help apply lotion over her raw skin to soothe it, sleep in her bedroom at night, and help her do absolutely anything she was unable to do.
But despite her terrible circumstances, McCoy felt she always had hope things would get better. “My philosophy was to stay upbeat,” she said, adding she would “joke with anyone who crossed her path.”
She added she realized the doctors and nurses working on her, and those who visited her, felt horrible for her when seeing her in her state, and she did all she could not to let them feel any worse.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to scream in pain in front of these people,” said McCoy.
She laughed when recounting just a handful of humorous moments which occurred when she was heavily medicated to deal with the intense pain.
These ranged from going on an African lion safari in the hospital halls to driving NASCAR in her bed to thinking a get-well card someone sent her had pansies with fangs on it.
McCoy eventually recovered from her condition, but the family was faced with a second scare just last January when her sister, Melanie Mathieson, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Fortunately, Melanie’s story has been a positive one as she has since received a bone marrow transplant and is undergoing chemotherapy.
“Our one constant through the adversity has been the ‘Community Chest,’” McCoy said, describing the charity as “people helping people with no strings attached.”
“This committee see so much adversity but only gives hope,” added McCoy, ending with a quote a friend of hers told her: “We exist temporarily through what we take. But we live forever through what we give.”
The room was moved by her story, and gave her a standing ovation when she left the podium.
Rick and Carolyn Stamarski also stepped up to the mic to tell the packed room how helpful the “Community Chest” was when she had a successful liver transplant back on Oct. 17.
“The ‘Community Chest’ got a call that we were in trouble, and just like that they gave us the money to make it possible for Rick to be there through it all,” Carolyn Stamarski said with tears in her eyes.
“Thanks to the ‘Community Chest,’ I didn’t have to worry about anything. Just Carolyn getting better,” said Rick.
The grateful couple then gave a cheque for $1,000 back to the “Community Chest” as a show of thanks.
Carolyn Stamarski had slipped into a coma due to complications with her liver on Oct. 4, was transported to Winnipeg, and then to London to receive a transplant two weeks later.
In an amazing success story, she soon began her rehab, regained her speech and use of her limbs, and returned to Fort Frances in late November.
And it looks like the “Community Chest” will be in good shape to keep on helping district families this year after a total of about $19,000 was raised at Sunday’s fundraiser.
This total includes proceeds from dinner tickets, with the balance coming from auctions and raffles.
As in past years, Rendez-Vous staff donated their time to prepare and serve the meal. Several Borderland Thunder players also lent helping hands. And all of the food served was donated by the Rendez-Vous’ suppliers to reduce costs and thus maximize proceeds.
There also were very brief presentations by local Kiwanis president Robert Sletmoen, Sandra Hill, president of the Fort Frances Lions Club, Luke Schill of the Knights of Columbus, Linda Hamilton of the “Spirit of Christmas,” Georges Blanc, co-owner of the Rendez-Vous, and Sylvia Gunderson of the Legion Ladies Auxiliary Br. #29.
They all spoke on how they enjoyed helping those in need through being a part of the “Community Chest” charity.
“I know the Kiwanis Club is very proud to be a sponsor of the ‘Community Chest,’” said Sletmoen.
“The ‘Community Chest’ has been a resounding success,” noted Hill. “I would like to thank everyone involved.”
“The Knights of Columbus are honoured to involved with the ‘Community Chest,’” said Schill.
“We’re very proud to be a member of the ‘Community Chest,’” echoed Gunderson.
“I just wanted to thank all of the organizers that make this possible each year,” said Blanc, adding “all the people that put their buns in the seats” should be given a hand, too.
“For Paul [Noonan] and I, it’s our way of giving back to the community and the people in it,” he noted.
Hamilton, who noted the “Spirit of Christmas” raised about $6,000 for the “Community Chest” last December, also circulated two large cards people could sign to wish Bob and Ethel McKee and Iris and Norman Shute well.
Bob McKee just had a heart transplant on March 13 while Norman Shute currently is undergoing chemotherapy.
“It’s not just the money. People realize they have 280 people pulling for them today,” she noted before the cards were passed out.
The evening concluded with a live auction conducted by Telford Advent. This, along with a silent auction, penny auction, and “Baker’s Dozen” raffle, featured numerous prizes donated by local business and individuals.
The “Community Chest” benefit dinner is organized each year by members of the local KCs, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs, the “Spirit of Christmas” committee, Legion Ladies Auxiliary Br. #29, and the Rendez-Vous staff.
The purpose of the “Community Chest” is to provide financial aid to local families who may need help to cover medical costs.
Last year, the “Community Chest” signed 130 cheques last year, totalling almost $49,400 in aid.
As of Jan. 1, 2005, the “Community Chest” coffers had about $87,800 in them, but Blanc noted given the increasing need for the charity’s help in the community, it must keep working to raise more funds.
“It seems like a hefty amount of money, but it dwindles quickly,” he said.
With the $19,000 raised at Sunday’s dinner, the bank account now stands at around $107,000.