LOWELL — Every spring for 20 years, thousands of people have come to downtown Lowell for the TeamWalk for CancerCare, raising millions of dollars to support cancer patients in need.
This year, the 21st annual walk was planned for the end of May at LeLacheur Park, along with several other fun-related fundraising events, like karaoke night and a fashion show.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the organizers had to take a different approach.
“We had to make the call the first week of April,” said TeamWalk Manager Andrea Jackson. “We had to switch gears quickly and come up with a virtual model, and fortunately we were able to do it.”
Changing the name to TeamWalk on Your Terms, event leaders asked supporters to walk and fundraise their own way, walking when and where they could and emphasizing safety.
Jackson said they knew they couldn’t expect the number of participants and amounts raised that they had in the past, but they had to do the fundraiser to support the patients at Lowell General Hospital’s Cancer Center.
About 30 teams participated over the course of the summer, raising more than $363,000 when the final numbers were tallied Oct. 1.
It was only a fraction of the $832,277 raised last year, but a great outcome given the challenges 2020 presented, Jackson said.
“We’re so appreciative of the support we did get this year, with everything going on,” Jackson said.
“Despite all of the hardships we all have been through this year, our community still came through for us in a big way,” Lowell General Hospital and Circle Health President and CEO Jody White said in a statement. “Cancer doesn’t go away during a pandemic, making your support of TeamWalk more important and impactful than ever before. Our community never fails to be there for our patients when they need it most.”
Since 2000, TeamWalk has raised more than $13 million and helped over 34,000 cancer patients and their families. Every dollar raised goes to patients at the LGH Cancer Center and throughout the region to help them with the cost of many items insurance doesn’t cover, such as overdue bills, prescription co-pays, wigs, transportation to treatment and integrative therapies to aid in recovery.
Chelmsford resident Carrie Meikle, a breast cancer survivor who received care at the Cancer Center, served as TeamWalk chair this year and will return for the role next year.
“I am so inspired by the support TeamWalk has received this year despite so many challenges,” Meikle said in a statement. “Thank you to everyone who took their time to support friends and neighbors battling this disease.”
In the virtual format, Jackson encouraged teams to let her know when they were walking, and she would send them care boxes with masks, hand sanitizer, noise makers and chalk to write inspirational messages. In normal years, Dunkin’ would also give out free coffee and doughnuts to walkers, so she gave them coupons to get their refreshments.
The teams would send back photos of themselves walking at different places, like the beach and Benson Park up in Hudson, N.H., and Jackson put them up on the TeamWalk website.
No decisions have been made for next year yet, but Jackson said they’re prepared if they need to go virtual again. In that case, she said they will have much more lead time to come up with creative solutions for additional fundraising events, and to find ways to do the fashion show and karaoke — or even a lip synching contest — online.
“The need is still there. It’s not going to go away,” Jackson said. “We have to keep in mind, these cancer patients are facing the same challenges, and a lot of them are going to need more financial support. So we have to keep getting out there and raising money because it is needed.”
Elite sponsors Enterprise Bank, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, Macy’s and the Thibault Foundation were among the organizations and individuals who sponsored this year’s event.
For more information and updates, follow TeamWalk on Facebook and visit www.teamwalk.org.