Super Sam Foundation co-founder Cassie Santhuff has nothing but gratitude for Callaway County.
"We wouldn't exist without Callaway County," she said Friday. "It's as simple as that. This county and the community surrounded us with love and support during Sam's fight. And they've stayed with us once they've seen what our mission is."
Super Sam Foundation, a local organization that raises funds and awareness to fight childhood cancer, is this year's Distinguished Service Award recipient and will be recognized at the annual Kingdom of Callaway Supper on March 6.
"We've tried to give back to the community by supporting local heroes in the fight, spreading awareness and providing opportunities for students and businesses to get out there and support something that's really a movement," Santhuff said.
Childhood cancer — there are 14 types and dozens of sub-types — is seen as uncommon and has been low on the federal priority list for many years. Santhuff's son Sam was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of muscles connected to bone diagnosed 300 times a year in the U.S., in late August 2013. He was 5 years old.
Sam fought cancer for 13 months, before passing away in September 2014 at age 6. During his fight, he and his family grew frustrated at the lack of federal funding for childhood cancer cures. Sam repeatedly said he wanted to "help all the kids," his mom said.
Honoring his wishes, the Santhuff family founded the Super Sam Foundation. The foundation has a two-pronged mission: Support cancer patients and their families with "comfort packs," and fund research grants to make up for the deficit caused by insufficient federal funding.
To date, this local foundation has donated about $75,000 toward funding childhood cancer research and is currently searching for another grant recipient, Santhuff said.
"(When I heard about the award), I had this overwhelming feeling of, this is something that I think would've made Sam so, so proud to see," Santhuff added. "He prayed and focused all his energies on on other people and service."
A day of gold
Santhuff said the award's timing is perfect, because the foundation has a big event coming up this week.
"The Callaway Kids Bank Board is adopting us," she said. "All the Callaway County high schools are (wearing) gold for Super Sam Foundation on Feb. 15."
Gold is the ribbon color for childhood cancer awareness, Santhuff explained. While raising money is important, awareness is perhaps more so.
"There's so much more than fundraising," she said. "It really is about saving our kids, which starts with awareness."
Feb. 15 is the 46th day of the year, falling in the seventh week. In the U.S., 46 kids per day are diagnosed with cancer, and seven die of cancer.
"I invited Cassie to come to one of our meetings earlier this year," said Debbie LaRue, Callaway Bank vice president and director of the Callaway Kids Bank Board. "I didn't know where the conversation would go. I just felt it was a good idea to put the two together and just watch and listen."
She said that afterwards, the board members (high school students from each of Callaway County's districts) told her they wanted to get involved with SSF's efforts.
Students at each school have planned their own awareness events, with school administrators' support.
At Fulton High School, students are selling Sam-o-Grams: valentine's cards that come with chocolate and information about the foundation and childhood cancer. South Callaway, North Callaway and New Bloomfield are planning gold rush games, with players and spectators wearing gold.
Santhuff said during half-time at North Callaway's basketball game Tuesday, students will be auctioning off a signed basketball to raise money. They'll also be selling pizza and T-shirts throughout the week.
"They've just gone above and beyond," she said.
LaRue added that Art House artist Jamie Humphreys is working on coloring page for the elementary schools with Callaway Bank mascot CB Squirrel, Super Sam and Ava Santhuff, Sam's sister.
Also coming up is the Super Sam "Toss Out Cancer" cornhole tournament and chili cook-off, scheduled for 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 24 at 1915 N. Bluff St. in Fulton.
The Kingdom of Callaway Supper's President's Reception will be 5-6:30 p.m. at the Kemper Arts Center. The dinner will be at 7 p.m. at Tucker Dining Hall, followed by a program 8 p.m. in Dulaney Auditorium. The event is $15 per ticket. Entertainment will be provided by Double Down.
Get tickets at Callaway Chamber of Commerce, The Callaway Bank, Central Bank, United Security Bank, Mosers in Fulton and Holts Summit, Crane's Store, Meadow Lake Acres and Short Stop in Millersburg.
Ham and turkey will be offered at the supper. For more information, contact LaRue at 573-592-6318.