Pandemic Doesn’t Hold Back ‘Making Strides’ Virtual Campaign
by TERESA SCHIFFER
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and 2020 being a year of social distancing and heightened health and safety measures, it’s no surprise that many annual fundraising events are being postponed, canceled, or held virtually. While this doesn’t have to stop people from wearing pink ribbons and donating to their favorite charities, it can be a big disappointment for those who look forward to yearly get-togethers with survivors and supporters. The American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign has sought to overcome this setback by holding exciting, interactive, virtual events throughout the month in lieu of the usual 5K walk that takes place in October.
Lakeland volunteer Beth Sherling has been involved with Making Strides of Polk County for more than 10 years. Her first experience was walking with a team called Kelly’s Troopers in support of someone close to her who was struggling with breast cancer. Through Sherling’s involvement with various local nonprofits, she eventually became acquainted with Caitlin Simmons, Senior Manager of Community Development at the American Cancer Society, and was given the chance to become involved with the coordination efforts of Making Strides of Polk County as the Team Development Chair. Through Sherling’s professional work with the Lakeland Parks and Recreation Department, she was able to draw the event back to Lakeland.
This year has been a little different in terms of planning what is traditionally an event attended by thousands.
“Once the decision was made to make the event virtual,” Sherling says, “that created the opportunity for these teams to not only look forward to that one day to celebrate survivors or to remember those who were in the fight, but to also make this an ongoing thing that we’ll continue to work up to.”
The challenge then became how to get participants involved not just in raising funds, but in building a community through digital technology.
Simmons emphasizes that one goal of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is to connect survivors and supporters in a meaningful way that is characterized by compassion and solidarity. The organization is busy on social media, building excitement for the main event, which will take place October 17. The #PinkOutPolk hashtag campaign is being used for participants to share photos of their homes or workplaces decked out in pink to show their support.
“Put on Your Pink Bra” is another fun initiative Making Strides is using to garner interest and enthusiasm for cancer research. In past years, this involved walkers in the 5K donning festively adorned pink bras on the outside of their clothes, and often wearing other fun pieces like tutus and tiaras. This year, people will share their fancy pink undies online to compete for a prize.
Making Strides of Polk County wants participants to take part in the event in any way that speaks to them – by decorating their spaces or themselves, walking, donating funds, or just enjoying the videos and photos being shared on social media. “We’re just telling folks to walk where it makes sense for them, if that’s how they would like to participate,” Simmons explains. “We’re still able to maintain the spirit of Strides – it’s always been about a movement. It’s never been just about a walk.”
“The goal is to draw awareness to the mission and why we’re doing this,” Simmons further elaborates. “Even though we were presented with these challenges, we are really excited about how we’ve been able to get creative and think about doing things differently to keep things fun and fresh. Even though that means we can’t physically gather, it shows that the spirit is still alive and well.”
In addition to the online presence of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, the American Cancer Society also reaches out to past participants through telephone and email to foster the sense of community and comradery that provides a lifeline of emotional support for many breast cancer survivors. If you or someone you care about has been affected by breast cancer, or if you simply want more information or to show your support, you can call the American Cancer Society toll-free anytime at 800-227-2345. To learn how you can get involved with this year’s event, visit the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer website, cancer.org. You can also find the local event on Facebook under “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer- Polk County.”