Race for the Cure Struggles to Sign Up Racers This Year

PHOTO: Runners at the starting line of the Komen Race for the cure.
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The world's largest charity for breast cancer, Susan G. Komen, is still reeling from the fierce backlash over its national office's decision earlier this year to cut -- and then restore -- funding to Planned Parenthood.

Now, local Komen affiliates may be paying the price.

Although the Northern New Jersey chapter met fundraising objectives this year for its annual Race for the Cure 5K run, held this past spring, executive director Jennifer Griola admitted it was forced to adjust its goals downward.

"We raised over $1 million this year, which did meet our projections," she said. "But last year, we raised about $1.5 million."

Elsewhere, enrollment for the race scheduled by the North East Ohio branch this fall is down 13 percent compared to last year.

In San Francisco, with three weeks to go before their annual race, enrollment is nearly half of what it was a year ago.

Participation in Indianapolis's race plummeted to 26,000 from more than 37,000 participants the year before, and Race for the Cure in Southwest Florida reported 2,000 fewer participants than the previous year.

Decision Pleases No One

Komen's official reason for cutting Planned Parenthood funding was that it was under federal investigation. However, many saw it as a politically motivated move by some of its devoutly pro-life executives, who objected to Planned Parenthood's abortion services.

Funding was restored quickly -- but not before raising the ire of past and potential participants on both sides of the aisle.

"I ran the Race for the Cure for over 10 years in memory of my mother who died of breast cancer at age 57," said Chicago-based author Iris Waichle. "I've stopped running the race and contributing money to Komen. As an advocate for people fighting infertility, I believe a woman has the right to choose her reproductive options."

On the other hand, Beverly Solomon, of Austin, Texas, who has never run a race but has often made contributions to Komen, vowed to stop supporting the charity because it reversed its original decision.

"How can anyone not see how offensive [it is] finding out that money intended to cure cancer was contributed to the biggest killer of women of any cause?" she asked.

Community Grants Down

The majority of money raised by local Komen chapters stays local. The chapters send 25 percent of collected donations to the national office, the majority of which is earmarked for medical research grants.

In fact, only 19 of the 120 community chapters provided any funding to Planned Parenthood in the first place.

Maria Sousa, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area Komen chapter understands why the public is angry but said if they continue to close their wallets, the pain will be felt by uninsured women who depend on Komen-funded services.

"If we can't raise the kind of money we usually do, we won't be able to give grants to organizations within the community who support these women," she said. "I don't see how bashing us helps women or cures cancer."

The Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, a Bay Area charity that provides emergency financial assistance to low-income people battling breast cancer, is one such entity. It is facing a cut of $100,000 in Komen funding. This means 100 fewer breast cancer victims will get help paying their bills.

"The thing to remember is the money that comes from these local walks stays in local communities and gets granted back out," said the fund's executive director, Mike Smith. "So all this controversy on the national level has nothing to do with the services and women in this community that need those services."

Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 1982 after her sister died of breast cancer. Since then, it has blossomed into a leading advocate for breast cancer.

A recent Harris Interactive poll found that after the Planned Parenthood debacle, Komen plummeted to 56 out of 79 in terms of its "brand equity." Previously, it ranked first or second.

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