Molalla is feelin' the love
Not one. Not two. Not even three recipients for Molalla's annual community fundraiser were enough for the team at Molalla High School.
This year, four families have been selected to be the receivers of love from the local community, setting a new precedent for the Share the Love campaign that has grown from a small event 16 years ago that took three months to raise $400, to an area-wide mega-fundraiser that last year raised nearly $52,000 in only three weeks.
This year, the goal is to raise $40,000 - nearly double the goal from last year. Never has the aim been this high, but last year's $52,000 raised, (more than two and a half times the goal) should provide encouragement.
The Suarez, Hall, Walker, and MacDonald families are all recipients of Share the Love 2017.
A slideshow shown during the Share the Love (STL) kickoff assembly took a look back at past years and told the stories of this year's recipients:
"Every day, we pass by these families, unaware of their struggles emotionally or financially," the slideshow said to a series of background photos remembering past years. "That's why this year, we need to be stronger than ever, united as one," it said, just before announcing the recipients.
Maria Suarez is a mother battling leukemia. She was diagnosed in April 2016 and has been hospitalized more days than she's been home. Her daughter, Galilea, is a freshman at MHS. She often has to watch and care for her two-year-old sister, but it's difficult while Galilea is in school. Her father has to take time off work occasionally, but since he is the sole earner for the family, it puts pressure on him to work as much as he can while Galilea looks after her sister.
Maria's niece, Carina, is a Molalla alum and helped organize STL during her time in school.
"This is our first time having to deal with someone in our family having cancer," Carina said. "These last few months have been overwhelming. Having to finds babysitters for the girls and transportation and my uncle missing days off work and my aunt being in the hospital every day. It's like do we go see the girls, do we go see her at the hospital, and then it's just one thing after the next where she's in the hospital the next day, we get a call saying something went wrong, and so it's just an ongoing process that is overwhelming for the girls and our family to say 'What do we do?' and 'Who do we ask for help?'"
Donna Hall is a wife and mother of two fighting colon cancer. In March 2016, she was admitted to the hospital and eventually had to have surgery on her colon. She was then diagnosed with stage four colon cancer that had spread to other parts of her body. Doctors told her she had six months to live without chemotherapy and an average of two years with it. She made a decision and is currently on her 16th treatment. She said her goal is to live to see her kids graduate from college, and hope for longer.
Her daughter, Ashley, graduated from MHS in 2015 and her younger daughter, Amy, is a senior. Donna has played an active role in her girls' extracurricular activities, including volunteering to help with the MHS dance team, the band, and as a Girl Scout leader.
After the assembly, said she is overwhelmed with all of the emotions she experienced during the assembly and from being selected.
"I'm just overwhelmed with all of the emotions, the gladness and sadness and being with all these people that in the same boat," she said. "I'm just in awe and inspired by all of these young folks."
Amy Hall said it means a lot to be selected; she said you never expect it to be you.
"I've been a part of Share the Love since middle school, and I never thought we would be a family selected," she said.
After the slideshow announced the Suarez and Hall families, a message popped up that read "But we are not just stopping there" followed by the announcement that the Walker family would also be chosen. The news of a third family being chosen was met with thunderous applause and cheers from the packed gymnasium.
A mother and grandmother, Andrea Walker is battling stage four breast cancer that has also traveled to her liver. This isn't her first bout with cancer; she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2008, and after four months of chemotherapy, 37 radiation treatments, three years of follow up medication, a preventative surgery and yearly checkups, she was feeling good.
But eight years later, she again received the news that she had cancer.
She learned that her cancer is inoperable and she will have to be treated for the rest of her life. She will always be on medication, always have to be monitored.
After the assembly, Andrea said that during her first go-around with cancer, it was hard to put the stress and burden on her friends and family. Despite what she's had to go through and is currently going through, Andrea still chooses to focus on the people closest to her in her life rather than herself.
She continues to work full time, but it's difficult because of the side effects that her medications bring. She works in northwest Portland, a more than two hour commute, and she finds herself having to leave early often. She is a single mother living on a single income, and the financial burden is ever building.
"That's been the hardest thing to deal with so far, is knowing that my friends, family, and coworkers, I have to put them through this again," she said. "But knowing that I have the support from my kids' school, the community, everybody involved, it's just taken a big weight off my shoulders. It's something I don't need to worry about because I have to worry about my health and my family first. I'm completely honored that I was one of the ones chosen."
Andrea lives daily by the motto "Positive attitude and power of prayer."
And just when the audience was ready to pull out their wallets and fill up Mr. Zenisek's jar, the slideshow sent another message:
"But we still have even more love to share."
In August 2016, Cindy MacDonald was diagnosed with inoperable stage four pancreatic cancer that had spread to nearby organs. She was told that without treatment she would have three months to live. The decision to undergo chemotherapy was made to extend her life beyond those three months.
Cindy died on Jan. 19, 2017. She was 44 years old.
Cindy leaves behind her husband Randy and their two teenage children, Hailey and Marshall, along with her step son Travis.
Kathy Holter was Cindy's sister and her best friend. After the assembly, she also said she never expected to be on the other side of the audience.
"Standing on the other side of the bleachers was a whole different perspective for everyone," she said. "Just to know that it's a sense of community is very humbling, it's very heartfelt; there aren't enough words to explain the emotion that races through a person."
"It's just so surreal because throughout my high school career I've been part of helping with Share the Love; I've been designing the shirts for the last two years," Hailey MacDonald said.
"Even just last year never in a million years did I think I'd be on the other side of the situation, that the tables would turn and I'd be having to stand in front of the whole school," she said. "I've gotten to watch Share the Love grow while I was a part of it, and then to be a part of it at this point with the four families and with the record-breaking amount we're making it's surreal and it's overwhelming, but in an amazing way."
Now, for the next three weeks, the students will hold a long list of fundraising events to help add to the total that will be shared between the four families.
For the most up-to-date event listings and times, follow the official Share the Love Facebook page at Facebook.com/MHSShareTheLove. The Pioneer will also offer advance information on each event and follow the campaign with updates and photos on the Pioneer Facebook page and online at HYPERLINK "http://www.molallapioneer.com" www.molallapioneer.com.
Look also for full page coverage dedicated to Share the Love each week of the campaign in the Pioneer.