The first signs of fall gold aren't sparkling on the trees — they're on ribbons and signs around town.
Gold is the color of the childhood cancer awareness ribbon, and September is childhood cancer awareness month. As always, local charity Super Sam Foundation is leading the charge to get locals involved in fighting the disease that devastates many families and young lives.
Most years, Super Sam organizes a big fundraising gala late in September. This year, SSF hopes to host a scaled-back, virtual gala Sept. 25.
"We'll have a small amount of fundraising, but the majority of the gala is meant to share what we do all year long," Super Sam co-founder Cassie Santhuff said.
Only a few volunteers, survivors and family members of "heroes in the fight" will actually be on hand in person. The rest of the attendees can join what Santhuff is calling the "2020 Very Un-Gala" virtually.
The event will include updates on the foundation's work over the last year — including its biggest research grant yet at $100,000, the performance of a special song, a candlelight moment of remembrance at sunset and more. Santhuff anticipated as many as 10,000 people might view the livestream.
During Tuesday night's Fulton City Council meeting, the council approved a request to close portions of 7th and Court Street in front of First Christian Church from 6-9 p.m. Sept. 25 so the livestream can take place.
Additionally, the foundation is conducting online fundraising activities in the weeks leading up to the event. That includes a big texting-based fundraiser drive with the help of EquipmentShare, a Columbia-based equipment rental company. EquipmentShare has promised to match up to $10,000 in donated funds during "Super September."
"When we heard childhood cancer received less than 4 percent of funding, we knew that's when we wanted to step in and help the Super Sam Foundation," EquipmentShare co-founder Jabbok Schlacks said in a video shared by the foundation.
Santhuff said she's amazed by EquipmentShare's generosity. It's especially needed in a year when the foundation has been unable to conduct many of its usual fundraising events.
"I love EquipmentShare," she said. "They've stepped up in a gigantic way."
To donate, text GIVE to 573-312-3409 or visit supersamfoundation.com/donate.
Super Sam will also host an online auction, with bidding beginning at 8 a.m. Sept. 19 and ending at 10 p.m. Sept. 25. One big-ticket item the foundation has already announced is a weekend getaway to Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota.
More information is to come — follow the Super Sam Facebook page for the latest.
Many Callaway County residents know about Santhuff and the Super Sam Foundation through their annual fundraisers, blood drives and awareness campaigns.
Childhood cancer — there are 14 types and dozens of subtypes — is seen as uncommon and has been low on the federal priority list for many years. Santhuff's son, Sam, was diagnosed in August 2013 with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of muscles connected to bone diagnosed 300 times a year in the U.S. He was 5 years old.
Sam fought cancer for 13 months then died at age 6 in September 2014. 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 has 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. At present, only 4 percent of federal research funding goes towards researching childhood cancers.