From 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday, strangers from all over came together in the spirit of compassion to help one family fight childhood cancer.
“We heard about it on social media,” said Joan Picard, a resident of Staatsburg who came with her husband, Joe.
Planning for months, Second Assistant Chief Mike Burnett and others at the Red Hook Fire Department, with help from the Tivoli Fire Department, created a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Lowns, whose 13-year-old son, Sam, was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma one day before most recent birthday.
People came singly, in fa...ilies and in groups. At first they straggled in; then they came by the dozens; then by the hundreds.
“We think there were at least 450 people,” said Jeff Levine, spokesman for the Red Hook Fire Department. Later, Burnett estimated about 500 dinners had been served.
Food was donated by local businesses. Volunteers ran raffles. And admission was by donation — whatever people could give.
“There were quite a few people we didn’t know,” said Jen Lown, Sam’s mother. "There are so many amazing people out there.
“My husband and I, we were trying to get around to all the tables,” she said. “People would come an introduce themselves. A lot of people came because they were cancer survivors.”
“Most of [Joe’s] family still lives in Red Hook,” said his wife, Joan. “We try to support the community.”
Joan said she was “extremely surprised” at how many people were there. “The parking lot was full, and the field next to the firehouse was packed," she said. "It was a wonderful thing to see.”
Although the Picards came just to support a boy with cancer, Joe was in for a surprise. “We were there for a while when he suddenly realized he knew Sam’s father, Don Lown,” Joan said. “My husband had grown up with him and hadn’t seen him in 20 or 30 years!”
This isn't the Lown family's first bout with cancer. Dylan, Jen’s son from a previous marriage, suffered brain cancer at age 13 and fought it for 16 months before he died.
In fact, when Sam got the diagnosis, his biggest concern was his mom and the rest of his family: his dad, older brother Jake, and sister Summer.
“He was very upset we’d have to go through this a second time,” Jen said. “He’s got a huge heart!”
Jen Lown. left, and her daughter, Summer, are shown at the fundraiser on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Red Hook, N.Y.
Sam, who has just about finished his treatment, received a new kind of chrome and titanium implant to replace his femur (thigh bone), a “genetically tailored” implant, Jen said, that will allow his leg to grow. The family had to drive back and forth to the Bronx throughout the past year for his chemotherapy and other treatments at Montefiore Medical Center.
The worst of it, Jen said, was the struggle with the health insurance, which first refused to pay for some of Sam’s chemotherapy drugs, and then did not want to pay the Bronx hospital where Sam could get the best care. Fortunately, the family was able to change insurance companies.
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