The 20th annual Festival of Hope drew hundreds to the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds Saturday in support of the fight against cancer.
Dr. Vince Bjorling, a recently-retired cancer physician, serves on the advisory board for the Festival of Hope. He said it’s become a very personal event over the years.
“We were trying to figure out how to help cancer patients and their families with non-medical expenses because we know that when people are undergoing treatment for cancer, it’s a very stressful time for them financially,” he said.
Through fun runs, auctions, bake sales and other activities, the Festival of Hope raises thousands of dollars each year to support these families in times of need.
“Lots of times, just making a car payment, making a utility payment … making sure they have groceries and things like that, becomes a very important thing,” Bjorling said. “…When you think about it in western Nebraska, everybody is either a family member, a friend or a neighbor (of someone who has been diagnosed with cancer) and so that’s where everybody comes together and helps everybody out. Over the last 20 years, we’ve distributed almost $3.3 million to patients and their families.”
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The money stays in the local region, aiding cancer patients from the western Nebraska area. Sometimes, patients who have beaten cancer are able to pay it forward and donate to help other families going through the same struggles theirs had been through.
“It’s just a really good cause, helps out the patients a lot. I think it’s a really good way to support the community,” Brittany Eirich, who worked with Bjorling, said.
This year’s Festival of Hope began with a 5K and children’s fun run early in the morning. The Knights of Columbus served breakfast from 7-10 a.m. Volunteers then served lunch for the duration of the festival.
Children and those young at heart could buy tickets and join in various booths and activities for the duration of the event. These included skee ball, face painting and a bouncy castle. Numerous shirts, baked goods and other items were also available for sale.
A silent auction with dozens of prizes provided another way for the Festival of Hope to raise funds. Local performers, including bands and dancers, entertained the crowd as they bid, ate or played.
Several items or packages of items were also auctioned off as part of a live auction.
The prizes ranged from a cake or an armchair or a grill, to a balloon ride for two, to 100 pounds of ground beef. In total, 14 prizes were auctioned off live with some selling for upwards of $1,000.
Guests could purchase butterfly decals to honor either those who have been diagnosed with cancer or in memory of those who have died from it. The decals were displayed alongside the back wall of the fairground’s event center. Towards the end of the program, organizers read out the long list of names on this Wall of Hope.
Afterward, the children at the event gathered outside to help release dozens of live painted lady butterflies. The butterflies scattered into the sky, though some needed additional encouragement.
Many of the activities featured at Saturday’s festival have been around since the event’s inception in 2003.
“We’ve been very blessed,” Bjorling said. “We live in a very giving community and people have really embraced this.”