RICHLAND — When Darcy Hackert was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, she was fortunate to have the means and insurance available to pay for her medical bills. But it soon occurred to her that not everybody shared her good luck.
“I had plenty of bills, but they weren’t like the ones that some people have. And those people deserve to have some help just as much as I did,” she explained.
That revelation led Darcy to found the Richland Pink Party, a Richland-based breast cancer support and awareness group in 2008 along with her close friends Kathy Coleman and Sandy Williams. That year they organized a bake sale and raffled off a quilt, managing to raise $1,500. The next year their proceeds jumped to $2,500.
Initially, their earnings were donated to a larger, established cancer support group. But it was hard to judge what kind of impact they were managing to make.
“It dawned on us that we weren’t seeing that money going anyplace,” Hackert said.
In response, Darcy and the other founding members took the matter entirely into their hands and filed the Richland Pink Party as a 501©(3) nonprofit group in 2010.
In the nine years since, Richland Pink Party has raised more than $100,000 and expanded rapidly. Their main fundraising event was initially a breakfast which has now transitioned into a dinner and auction held every year in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All items put up in the auction are either donated or purchased out of pocket by members of the organization. Everything from concrete to an edible birdhouse have been donated, and the auctions can get competitive. One year, a single bag of corn seed sold for $1,500.
The Richland Pink Party also provides three $1,500 scholarships which are awarded every spring to high school and college students interested in a career in cancer medicine.
The organization is made up entirely of local volunteers. Darcy’s two daughters design their t-shirts and promotional materials and handle advertising. Her husband, a metalworker, always designs a sculpture every year to be put up in the auction. One friend supplies the food while another works as treasurer. A lawyer donates her time to handle legal matters, and the auctioneers both work for free.
Every year the organization benefits about half a dozen breast cancer patients by providing them with gas money to travel to and from their appointments or by directly covering their medical bills. Much of it also goes to local clinics to pay for preventative tests like mammograms, something that many women simply can’t afford.
“That’s just silly,” Hackert said. “Prevention is so much more important.”
The dinner and auction see about 100 attendees every year. For a town like Richland, which has about 500 residents, those numbers are huge.
“It’s kind of an event for them. They can sit and chat and they see people they haven’t seen for a long time so it’s kind of a friendly thing.”
The event now benefits patients, clinics, and students across Keokuk, Wapello, Mahaska, Washington, and Jefferson counties. Although moving the event out of Richland might draw more attendees, Darcy thinks it’s important to keep it local.
“We could move it to Washington or Fairfield and we’d probably get lots more people, but the whole reason we started it is so that there’d be something in the little town.”
One can tell how important the event is to Darcy after speaking about it with her for just a few minutes.
“Every year makes me happy,” she said with a smile and a nod. “Every year I have a dream about two days before this that nobody’s gonna come and we’re gonna be sitting there with a lot of food for nobody. Or I’ll have a dream that nobody donated to the auction. But that never happens. It always turns out great.”
The auction and dinner will be held this year at 5 p.m. on Oct. 19 and t-shirts are set to go on sale on their website this Friday. You can find more information on their website, www.richlandpinkparty.org, or follow them on Facebook. Darcy can be contacted by phone at 641-919-9083, or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.