GROTON — Despite personal hardship and the work involved, a local woman has decided to tackle a fundraiser to help those with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system and for which a cure has yet to be found.
Riverbend Drive resident Donna Picariello met such success with a fundraiser held last year at the Indian Hill Music Center in Littleton, where she raised $2,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Massachusetts, that she decided to hold another one this year.
“We had a very successful fundraiser last year with only 30 seats shy of a full house of 160,” said Picariello of the Indian Hill venue. “I had no target in mind in terms of how much money I hoped to raise, I just wanted to get to earmark where the funds would go. I like that they went to help local MS people here in Middlesex County. For example, if you have MS and need a housekeeper or transportation into Boston for treatment, you can call the MS Society in Waltham and tell them that you don’t have the money for something and they will grant most requests for aid.”
More immediately, Picariello was inspired to proceed with this year’s fundraiser by a letter of thanks she received from a person who directly benefited from the money raised at the Indian Hill event.
“The main reason I decided to hold another fundraiser this year was due mainly to a letter I received from a 15-year-old girl who wrote me to say thank you for what I did,” revealed Picariello. “She is bedridden with MS and needed money in order to subscribe to Netflix for a year. She got it from the MS Society. Her situation is so tragic. All she really has for entertainment is watching movies but there are only so many on cable or TV. Unfortunately, her family has a limited income and her parents just couldn’t afford to pay for the service. Then someone suggested that she contact the MS Society and they gave her the money she needed. When I heard that, I thought ‘That’s what it’s all about!’ I was so happy with that girl’s story. So that’s what motivated me to do another fundraiser. It’s a lot of work to do alone, but well worth it.”
This year, Picariello has chosen to move the site of her fundraiser closer to home but is offering the same variety of live music and good food.
“The fundraiser will have a new venue this year,” said Picariello. “It will take place at the First Parish Church vestry in Groton, which is located on Powderhouse Road directly off Route 119. Like last year, the event will have music, but also a silent auction which will feature some very good items — not least of which will be a signed autograph photo of Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.
“My sister told me that I had to think outside the box,” said Picariello of how she ended up with Pedroia’s autographed photo. “I was just going to places where I do business and asking for donations, but my sister suggested that I try sports teams like the Red Sox, Patriots, or Celtics. So I said ‘All right. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ So I called the Red Sox and was shocked when they answered phone. They made it so easy. They just said to send them a letter of intent stating that all of the proceeds of the fundraiser will go to charity. Every year I’m learning.”
Picariello said she hoped to have similarly signed photos from Celtics and Patriots players in time for the auction.
As it did last year, the main feature of Picariello’s fundraiser will be live music played by a variety of local performers including classical jazz by Paul Pampinella, opera by singer Nancy Howells, Laurel Martin who will lead an all-girl violin troupe and others who will perform comedic skits.
“Their brand of music is the really foot stomping kind,” enthused Picariello, speaking of Martin’s group. “They are excellent, so I had to have them.”
Also on hand will be the father-son team of Steve and Zak Smith, guitarists Dennis Pacy and friends, as well as Picariello’s own daughter, Kelsey Whalen, who is expected to perform a jazz rock number before teaming with Pacy and Picariello’s stepson, Michael, for a number or two. And as if all that were not enough, Picariello herself is scheduled to perform a duet with her daughter.
Picariello was quick to say that her second fundraiser would not have been possible without the support of local businesses including Shirley-based ISS, owned by Jeffrey Schwarz, who printed up all the signs, posters, road signs, and flyers for free, and Donelan’s, which donated all the food and decorations.
The help and support received by local businesses, local performers, family and friends were all most welcome to Picariello, whose own struggle with multiple sclerosis constantly threatens her morale.
“It’s difficult coping with MS, but I just do,” said Picariello of her 34 years since being diagnosed with the disease. “I have three children in college and a husband with lung cancer so I don’t have time to be sick right now. I don’t want to be sick so that for as long as I can do the benefit, I’ll do it. Every year I tell myself that I won’t do anything like go on a walk-a-thon or fundraise, but the need is bigger than I am. Holding the fundraiser is a big job for one person to do, but I end up doing it anyway because I want to help. My attitude is that I go into it expecting nothing so whatever I raise is humbly appreciated. Everyone who attends the fundraiser is helping and doing their part. It’s all very exciting.
“I’m optimistic,” insisted Picariello, who lost the use of her legs and, over the last year, her left hand as well. “I live for today. People keep saying that maybe they’ll find a cure tomorrow. Well, 34 years later, they’re still not close to finding one. You can’t count on a cure being found, but you do have to go on with daily living. I don’t look upon myself as courageous for doing that. I have the same obligations as anybody else. I’m a parent who has to make a living. I have to prepare meals and drive people to work or to school.”
Picariello’s fundraiser will be held at the First Parish Church vestry off Route 119 on Sept. 25 from noon to 4 p.m. A preview of the silent auction will be available at 11 a.m.
Tickets for the benefit can be purchased in advance for $12 or for $15 at the door. The facilities are handicapped accessible.
Those seeking information about the Multiple Sclerosis Society can call Nancy D. at 1-800-493-9255 or make donations directly to the Society by addressing checks to the Central New England MS Society, c/o Donna Whalen-Picariello, 307 Riverbend Drive, Groton, MA 01450.
Any questions about the upcoming benefit can be made to Picariello by calling 978-448-4008.
As for what comes next after the benefit, Picariello said she was not carving anything in stone.
“I’ll take things as they come,” she said. “A lot depends on the condition of my husband — and mine of course — because MS is not user-friendly.”