This Thanksgiving has special meaning for Emmy Award-winning actor, producer, and author Marlo Thomas. It’s the 50th anniversary of her family’s fundraising for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, located in Memphis, Tenn.
St. Jude began as the dream of Marlo’s father, the late, great funnyman Danny Thomas, in 1957 and has been going strong ever since. Since his death in 1991, Marlo, along with her sister, Terre, and brother, Tony, has been at the forefront of the center’s fundraising.
Marcela Jones, an English professor in Washington, D.C., says her 3-year-old daughter, Amalia, starts screaming as soon as they step into a doctor's office. Her child's white coat-triggered misery started, Jones says, with her two-year checkup -- Amalia had her routine shots and then went upstairs to another office for a lead blood test. "We had to have three people holding her down," says Jones. "It was horrible."
What's a parent to do? Jones knew she didn't want a struggle like that again, so...
Focusing on childhood cancers along with other diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sickle cell disease, and genetic disorders, St. Jude fills a critical need. For example, when the hospital opened in 1962, the survival rate for childhood cancer was 4% to 75%, depending on the type of cancer. Today it is 55% to 95%, thanks in large part to its research.
Because, however, Danny Thomas’ dream also included the promise that no child would be turned away due to a family’s inability to pay, fundraising has always been critical to St. Jude’s success. “The average hospital only needs to get 8% of their money from fundraising -- but because most of our patients do not pay, we have to get 72%, so fundraising is key to our survival,” says Thomas. To date, 85 cents of every dollar raised for St. Jude goes directly to research and the treatment of some 5,000 children annually, at a cost of about $600 million.
To reach and exceed their goals, this November, as in years past, the Thomases and an army of volunteers and celebrities -- including Jennifer Aniston, Robin Williams, Bernie Mac, Ray Romano, and Antonio Banderas -- kick off the annual “Thanks and Giving Campaign.”
“In the beginning we did it for my father,” says Thomas. “Now, it’s all about the kids -- and it’s woven into the fabric of our lives.”