Not even the rain Saturday could stand in the way of friends and neighbors wanting to show their support for a Richmond Hill family.
The “Pack the Park” fundraiser and bone marrow registration drive in J.F. Gregory Park was held in honor of Evan Nelms, a 5-year-old kindergartener at Richmond Hill Primary School, who was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia for the second time.
Evan and his parents are currently at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania for him to undergo treatment. And even though the family couldn’t attend, friends Stephanie Merchant, LeAnn Flemmings and Vicki Purcell wanted to find a way to help.
“We want Evan’s family to know that even though they’re in Pennsylvania, we’re standing ‘Evanstrong’ for them,” Merchant said. “If we have to do this every three months, that’s what we’ll do.”
Merchant said the goal of the day was not only raising funds to help Evan’s family with medical expenses, but also to raise awareness of the disease by encouraging people to register to become bone marrow donors through Be the Match, a national marrow donor program.
Everything was donated for the event, Merchant said, from bounce houses to food and drinks. Be the Match also waived fees it normally charges to hold a donor drive, she added. She said the support in organizing the event was “absolutely astounding.”
“I’m proud to say we live in this small community,” she said. “This is Evan’s second time fighting. We had fundraisers the first time, but this time the community has really stepped up to do what they possibly can to help.”
Jennifer Salah with Be the Match was helping people through the registration process and noted the importance of joining the registry.
“An interesting statistic is that only 30 percent of people (who need a transplant) find a match in their family. So that means 70 percent of people depend on us to find a match for them,” Salah said.
The national bone marrow donor registry currently has about 10 million people on it.
“There are even more worldwide, but even with more than 10 million people registered, there are still patients like Evan who don’t have a match,” she said. “So it’s even more important for people to register.”
A recent fundraiser hosted by Richmond Hill elementary and primary schools raised around $5,600, Merchant said.
“If kindergarteners, first-graders, second-graders and third-graders can do that, imagine what this community can do,” she said.
The event Saturday managed to almost double what the schools raised, Merchant said Monday.
“We counted Saturday night and recounted, and we raised $5,300,” she said, noting she was impressed by the amount considering the less-than-desirable weather.
Read more in the Feb. 27 edition of the News.