Purple Pansies, a volunteer run nonprofit fighting to end pancreatic cancer, recently held its 13th annual Pillars of Hope Gala, presented by Kroger, raising $650,000 in one evening to show support for survivors and the hope to cure pancreatic cancer.

Founding Purple Pansies in 2009, Maria Fundora holds the gala in September in honor of when she lost her mother, Iluminada Milian, in 2007. “I lost her three months after diagnosis, and I could not just sit still. I had to do something.”

Fundora turned her devastation into determination to make a difference, and immediately began holding events at her restaurant, Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant, to raise funds. But as her efforts increased, so did her frustration, as she still saw too many people in the community suffering.

Reaching out for a bigger vision, she researched until she found Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), part of City of Hope, a nonprofit medical research institute that works on groundbreaking strategies targeting pancreatic cancer.

With a completely volunteer board and staff, the organization is able to distribute 98% of all funds donated directly to emergency grants, scholarships and research and clinical trials. “We may be small, but we do not let that limit what we can achieve,” said Fundora. “We have the ability to grant funds at a moment’s notice and bridge the gap between our organization, the community and treatments for those in need.”

To date, Purple Pansies has raised more than $4 million to fund research through TGen and aid affected families. Purple Pansies believes in a practical, personal approach to tackle immediate needs in the community and strives to also help those who have exhausted treatment funding and support for loved ones in need.

“It is an honor to work alongside Purple Pansies in the fight to end pancreatic cancer,” said Erin Massey, chief development officer, TGen Foundation. “Our collaboration is directly benefiting patients by allowing more access to the first in class care for patients.”

The evening included a presentation of the Pillars of Hope Bill Palmer Legacy Award. The award honors the late Bill Palmer (founder of Applebee’s) for his pioneering support of Purple Pansies and his own courageous fight with the disease. This year the award was presented to Howard Young for his unwavering commitment to Purple Pansies, pancreatic cancer research and his advocacy for patients. Young, president of General Wholesale Beer Company, is a 20-year survivor of pancreatic cancer who is on the TGen Foundation board of directors and chairs the TGen Pancreatic Cancer National Advisory Council.

“Thank you for this award,” said Young. “I accept it on behalf of all the patients that are battling pancreatic cancer and don’t have time to wait. We have to find a cure and I’m grateful to Purple Pansies who are making a difference, and to TGen who is making it happen.”

Purple Pansies continued work is to bring awareness to this underfunded cancer. Pancreatic cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., with a 11% survival rate, yet only receives 6% of research funding. While the disease has received more attention recently due to many prominent individuals who have been affected including JEOPARDY! host Alex Trebek, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rep. John Lewis, an increase in public awareness and research funding remains critical.

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