by Krista Kuzma
MELROSE, Minn. - Jane Salzl knows there's good in the world. She experienced it when her son, Michael, was going through cancer last winter.
"A person can be bombarded with a lot of negative on the news, but really there's so much good out there. This foundation is just one more thing that's good," Salzl said, who owned and operated a dairy farm with her husband, Sam, until September 2011, near Melrose, Minn.
The foundation Salzl is referring to is the Pinky Swear Foundation, formerly known as the Miracles of Mitch Foundation, based in Bloomington, Minn. The organization helps provide non-medical financial assistance to families of kids who have cancer.
The Salzl family - one of many who have been helped by this foundation - received help with a mortgage payment and was given tickets to a Vikings game since football is one of Michael's favorite sports.
The Foundation wants to keep the gift-giving going. And farmers can help.
"We know there's an opportunity where the equipment they need to trade in or dispose of can be donated and turned into a positive to help kids with cancer and their families," said Brian Nelson, executive director of the Pinky Swear Foundation.
Farmers who donate their farm equipment to the foundation would be helping more families like the Salzls.
"We're a unique niche," Nelson said. "We don't do research and we're not looking to find a cure, but it's an everyday struggle for these families."
Nelson said the average age of a child being diagnosed with cancer is 6 years old, with the average time of treatment being two years. During that time, the average family will spend 25 percent of its disposable income on non-medical needs to care for the child.
"Nobody tells you to put money away because your child might get cancer. The financial obligations are huge and can be devastating to a family," Nelson said.
About one out of 11 families that have a child with cancer will file for bankruptcy, Nelson said.
"We help soften the blow a little bit by providing some financial support to that family," Nelson said about the foundation.
The Salzls story was a little different. Michael, who was 16 at the time, was not feeling well last November. A trip to the local clinic turned into a visit to the Melrose hospital and eventually Children's Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. The doctors were able to locate the Burkitt's Lymphoma cancer, remove it and do two rounds of chemotherapy within two months before declaring Michael in remission. He is now healthy again and back to playing football for his high school this fall.
"It's not a normal cancer story," Salzl said.
She knows and saw many others families deal with the obstacles that cancer gives a family.
Having support in the form of farm equipment would be a big help for the Pinky Swear Foundation, Nelson said. The program began in November.
"Farmers are some of the most generous people," Nelson said. "A lot of people we help with our services and support are farm families or from rural communities. Often times, those are the people hard pressed to get to treatment because they have so far to drive. We can help with that. "
The money raised can be used by families for gas, other transportation, a mortgage payment, food and has been used for headstones in the past, among many other needs for families.
"It's a pure gift," Salzl said about receiving help from the foundation. "It's wonderful when you're dealing with a lot of other things. It's heartwarming realizing that it's being taken care of."
The foundation has partnered with All State Ag Parts, a tractor parts company, that is in charge of collecting the farm equipment and determining what will happen to it - resold, sold for parts or sold as scrap metal.
Farm equipment in any condition is accepted and in return farmers can receive a tax deduction for their gift based on the fair market value of the machinery.
"It's a good feeling for them and can provide a tax advantage," Nelson said.
Being a 20-year cancer survivor, Nelson knows the struggle cancer can cause for a family.
"It not only affects the child and the parents, but the siblings, too," Nelson said. "It's not one individual going through the challenging time, the whole family faces that crisis."
The Chepokas family, who started the foundation, faced that crisis in 2002, when their son, Mitch, was diagnosed with bone cancer. That December while in the hospital, Mitch overheard the family next to him having financial trouble for Christmas. Mitch wanted to do something. He asked his dad to take his $6,000 of life savings out of the bank and divide it up to give to families with kids dealing with cancer. He thought it was so much fun, that he wanted to do it the next year. When his dad told him he might not be there next year, Mitch made his dad pinky swear he would do it forever. Mitch passed away the next year and his dad started the foundation.
To date, the organization has raised $4.5 million to give to families with children who have cancer. The foundation works with four hospitals in Minnesota and has been able to help families from 14 states, mostly in the Upper Midwest. One of their goals is to become a nationwide organization.
"We want to help families where ever they may be," Nelson said.
The foundation hosts many events to raise money; however, its biggest fundraiser is a kids' triathlon. At their most recent triathlon, children ages 7 to 17 raised $700,000 for the foundation.
"This is kids helping kids. It's a pretty powerful message," Nelson said.
Now farmers have their opportunity to give to the foundation through the tractor program.
"My hope is that the foundation can continue," Salzl said. "I want it to go on to help lighten the load for other people when the load is too heavy to bear."
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