At 4 a.m. on Saturday, October 20, Pancakes for Parkinson’s volunteers set up nine griddles along South Lawn in preparation for the organization’s annual philanthropy event, which aims to raise money to fund research on Parkinson’s disease. After six months of planning, the executive committee members were anxious to see the result of their efforts.
Once set-up was finished, the volunteers began flipping pancakes as the first attendees arrived at 9 o’clock. Steadily the crowd grew and, in the course of the day, an estimate of between 5 to 7,000 U.Va. students and Charlottesville residents came to the event, surpassing the attendance of any previous year.
“It has exceeded our expectations in every way,” said co-director Brad Whitwell. “I think it’s just a testament of how well our executive committee has worked together and as a result of that it has really paid off. We have record number of attendees and hopefully record breaking donations.”
The organization was founded in 2004 by Mary McNought after her grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and, at that time, it focused on connecting with the U.Va. community. The central goal for Whitwell and co-director Colette Martin was to reach beyond the university.
“U.Va. loves Pancakes for Parkinson’s, but I think that Parkinson’s is a universal thing and we’ve really tried to branch out into Charlottesville and the local area,” said Whitwell. “That is something we’ve accomplished this year through the number of attendees who aren’t students and also the amount of Parkinson’s patients that showed up today.”
In the event’s first year, the organization raised approximately $3,000. Since then each year has seen an increase in donations, with a total of about $150,000 for the past 8 years.
“The personal goal Colette and I set for this year was to break $200,000,” said Whitwell, “which would mean we would need to raise around $50,000 this year and I think that’s very achievable based on what we’ve seen turn out be today.”
An early estimate shows the total for this year at $75,000. The financial goal was achievable due to massive outreach efforts, which were aided by the new focus on social media.
Whitwell said, “We never had Twitter and our Facebook was pretty archaic before and this year we’ve totally reversed that. We’ve made a position of Webmaster that I think really went a long way in advertising.”
The current Webmaster, Katie Sutton, hopes to expand the role of technology for next year. This will partly involve using a program called mGive, which would allow text donations.
The organization also relies on donations for supplies, which include toppings, pancake mix, and plastic flatware. These can be costly, as the event uses 500 pounds of pancake batter to flip about 10,000 pancakes. One major donor was U.Va. Dining, which supplied 30 pounds of blueberries, 4,500 plastic containers of syrup, and 28 cans of pam, among other things.
“We are involved with Pancakes for Parkinson’s as we are involved with all other student groups that request our assistance. We want to give back to the U.Va. student community in as many ways as we can,” said Nicole Jackson, U.Va. Dining marketing manager.
Pancakes for Parkinson’s is an umbrella organization for the Michael J. Fox foundation, which is another major contributor of supplies. In addition, they match each donated dollar that they receive. U.Va.’s branch is one of the largest contributors to the foundation and the relationship between the two has grown in the years of working together.
“We were adopted by the Michael J. Fox foundation in 2006 as their national fundraiser,” said Martin. “They sent a representative this year from their New York headquarters and we really aim to build a strong partnership with them.”
The goal for both Whitwell and Martin is to strengthen the event and become an even more valuable partner to the foundation. Next year, Whitwell will have graduated, but Martin, who is currently a third year, will remain an active member of the organization.
Martin said, “I will perhaps continue as the chair next year, which will allow me to see the weakness after this year’s event and to really make a difference and end those weaknesses for next year.”
For more information on Pancakes for Parkinson’s visit their website at http://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/Pancakes4Parkinsons/