Pink Zone: Inspiring hope, and being inspired by it

Considering Pink Zone is a relatively young, small nonprofit organization, we welcome any donations that come our way.

We honestly feel that no amount is too small and we are very fortunate to live in such a generous community. While the incoming money is always a blessing, the stories behind some of the donations we receive often provide the greatest source of inspiration.

This past fall, I received a phone call from Tina Bowersox, of Lewistown. She had $400 in cash that she had raised for Pink Zone and wondered where she could drop it off.

Although I was delighted to accept this donation, I was equally as curious to know how she had raised the money. I sat down with Bowersox to hear her story, and what I learned literally brought tears to my eyes.

Bowersox is a waitress at the OIP restaurant in Milroy, where she has worked for nine years. In October, she decided to do something as part of breast cancer awareness month.

“We have customers who have had breast cancer and I’ve watched them go through the process,” she said. Cancer also runs in her family. A few women on her mom’s side of the family have lost their battles with various cancers over the years. Like most of us, it is a cause that affects her personally.

Bowersox decided to put her compassion into action.

She mentioned to her boss and restaurant owner Phil Cracchiolo that she wanted to pick a day in October to donate her tips to a breast cancer organization. At that time, she was unclear as to which organization she would choose. She just knew she wanted to make a difference.

Cracchiolo was happy to support her idea. So happy, in fact, that he offered to match her tips at the end of the day.

“It was a good cause,” Cracchiolo said. “The community helps us, so we like to give back to the community. Tina has a heart of gold.” After a couple of posts on Facebook explaining this plan to customers, a thought was put into motion.

Bowersox placed a donation jar at the register and proudly accepted generous tips all day.

One customer whose schedule did not afford him the time to dine in that day made it a point to at least stop in to donate $5 to the cause. After her six-hour shift, the donation jar was jammed with $165, Bowersox’s apron held $110, and a final donation from Cracchiolo brought the total to an even $400.

After speaking to an employee at Geisinger-Lewistown hospital who explained that Pink Zone funds support its breast care center, Bowersox made the decision to give to Pink Zone. She drove to the Bryce Jordan Center and delivered her donation personally to the Lady Lion basketball office.

As I sat in a booth with Bowersox at OIP to listen to her story, she became teary. We kept reaching for napkins to dab at our eyes.

“Cancer is hard,” she said. “I see these women who come in wearing their hats or their wigs and I hate to know they’re struggling. We have a couple who visit the restaurant who both had cancer. She had breast cancer and he had colon cancer. They came in recently after a follow-up appointment to announce they are both cancer free.”

And then the tears turn to smiles.

Last weekend, Pink Zone received a touching donation of a different type.

Viva Bella Salon in State College hosted our inaugural Glam Zone event. Thirteen people from our community came out on Friday night to donate their hair to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, which provides wigs to women battling cancer.

One of those donors was 39-year-old John Keeler, of Bellefonte.

Although we all thought it was impressive to see a man walk through the door with an amazing head of hair, what was more impressive was the motive behind his coif.

Keeler’s mom is a breast cancer survivor. He had been growing his hair for more than two years simply because he wanted to donate his locks to honor his mom’s brave battle. We were touched that he chose our event to share this gift of love for his mom and for the many women who battle breast cancer every day.

The heart of Pink Zone’s mission includes empowering breast cancer survivors. Because of generous and thoughtful donors like Tina Bowersox and John Keeler, we are able to continue our work in this fight against breast cancer.

While Pink Zone works to inspire hope, it is Pink Zone that is often inspired by the works of others.