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Bethune fund gives hope to those in need

Group has raised nearly $400,000 to cover medical expenses since 2010

Posted: November 20, 2017 5:01 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Towers of plastic meal boxes stand ready for use as some of the dozens of volunteers assist in preparing pork tenderloin meals for Friday’s benefit at the Bethune Woman’s Center. Bethune Hope Fund’s Jackie Knight said the group starts organizing benefits about six to eight weeks ahead of time, meeting weekly and taking advance orders. Friday, word of the benefit reached hundreds of people to show up, causing a temporary backup while volunteers cooked more tenderloin.

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Bethune is proving that small towns can do big things.

Residents in and around Bethune have contributed nearly $400,000 in seven years to the Bethune Hope Fund, which raises money to offset non-insured medical costs for people from all over the Midlands.

Friday, the fund hosted its 15th benefit meal, this time at The Woman’s Club of Bethune for a single mother who is battling bone cancer. Dozens of volunteer chefs grilled marinated pork tenderloins, green beans and sweet potatoes served with bread, dessert and -- for those eating in -- a beverage. More volunteers worked the serving line putting together the meals, while still others helped sell homemade pies and cakes, raffle off a Christmas wreath and more.

At the end of the day Friday, the fund served more than 1,200 meals and raised more than $16,000 for Julie Horton, according to one of the organizers, Lawann McCoy.

“And money is still coming in,” McCoy said Monday. “This was one of our better ones. It was a lot of work and I’m tired, but it’s a good tired.”

Horton’s mother, Gayle Hall, the pianist for Bethel Methodist Church in Bethune, said her daughter couldn’t be at the fundraiser Friday because she had just undergone another round of chemotherapy and couldn’t be around other people for 72 hours.

“She would’ve loved to have been here,” Hall said.

She said her daughter, who is in her 40s, had already been fighting breast cancer when she learned she had bone cancer.

“Most of her pain is in her back and spine,” Hall explained.

Horton also has a 10-year-old daughter, Tabitha, a SEAGUL student and member of her school’s quiz bowl team.

The family, unfortunately, has gone through much. Hall said she had a husband who died of cancer and served as his primary caregiver, like she is now for her daughter. Horton’s father was killed in a logging accident before she was even born.

Despite the physical and emotional pain, Hall said her daughter is grateful for all the people who came out Friday.

“She’s thankful and appreciative; it’s emotionally overwhelming,” Hall said.

Most, but all of the beneficiaries, going back to February 2010, of the Bethune Hope Fund’s efforts have been cancer patients, according to the fund’s Jackie Knight.

“We try to alleviate the financial hardships that are due to a lot of terminal illnesses that insurance won’t cover,” he said. “The first (benefit) was for a young lady who had suffered a brain aneurism who could only have the surgery she needed in California.”

Knight said the fund usually puts together two fundraisers each year; with Horton’s, there have been three in 2017. All the preparation, promotion and work are done by volunteers. That includes former beneficiaries -- such as one man who worked Friday who suffers from Stage IV cancer -- and family members of those the fund is helping.

For example, Horton’s aunt, Doris, 90, made 12 from-scratch cakes that McCoy said sold quite well.

Knight said preparation starts six to eight weeks before each fundraiser with volunteers meeting once a week to make sure everything goes smoothly the day of the benefit.

Many people order their meals ahead of time and, often, in bulk. That doesn’t keep people from walking in off the street. Friday’s benefit started around 11 a.m. About 90 minutes later, word of mouth brought at least 100 people to the Woman’s Club looking to chip in the $8 for lunch.

During the surge, Knight said the benefits have averaged between 1,500 and 2,000 plates served.

“The most we’ve ever done is between 4,500 and 4,700,” he said.

At $8 a plate, that would come to between $36,000 and $37,600 for one event, not counting the sale of non-meal items.

The Bethune Hope Fund does not just work in Bethune. Knight said they have held events in Bishopville, Columbia, Sumter and Pageland.

“When we hold one out of town, we always partner with a church,” Knight said, explaining that in many cases, a church has already formed a relationship with the potential beneficiary.

He said word of mouth not only brings in people to buy meals, but to volunteer to help cook and serve. Volunteers are, mostly, from Kershaw, McBee and, of course, Bethune.

“My wife and I lived in Florence for 20 years and there is a group there, Cooks for Christ, that has raised millions of dollars,” Knight said.

He and others thought the same concept could work in Bethune.

“You see everyone has a smile on their face,” he pointed out. “We enjoy what we do. This is the most compassionate, giving, loving community to live in.

“All I have to say is we’re going to have a benefit and they show up.”

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