Borgess Lee hosts Tree of Love ceremony

DOWAGIAC — Wednesday evening, many Dowagiac and Cass County residents stood under a cold, late-fall sky, bundled in their warmest coats and scarves to watch the tallest tree in Farr Park become illuminated with hundreds of tiny, pink lights.

The Lee Memorial Foundation’s Tree of Love campaign hosted its annual tree lighting ceremony Wednesday evening in Dowagiac’s Farr Park, next to the hospital. The ceremony, the eighth annual hosted in Dowagiac, is a product of Borgess’ Tree of Love program, which helps uninsured and underinsured women in Cass County receive mammography services at Borgess.

“This is kind of the beginning of the holiday season for the hospital and the Tree of Love fundraising program,” said Beth Cripe, development coordinator with the Lee Memorial Foundation.

So far this year, the Tree of Love campaign has raised more than $13,000, the most the campaign has ever raised. The campaign will continue to run until the end of the year.

“This just shows you how generous this community is and how generous Cass County is,” Cripe said. “I think cancer has touched so many lives in this county, which is why I think people don’t hesitate to give to this program.”

Speaking at the tree lighting ceremony, Natalie Ryder, chief administration officer at Ascension Borgess Lee, said the Tree of Love program is important as nearly one in every five women in the U.S. cannot afford the insurance coverage or the money to get a mammogram that can help them detect breast cancer early. To date, the program has provided more than 250 free mammography services to women in Cass County.

“Tree of Love can make a difference,” Ryder said. “Donations bring the program to life and help save lives of the women of Cass County.”

Among those in the crowd Wednesday evening were several cancer survivors who said that the lighting symbolizes hope to them. Many of the survivors have a tradition of coming to the lighting every year before going out to dinner to celebrate their lives as survivors.

“This symbolizes freedom to us in a way,” said Lou Southerland, a survivor.

Not only were the women celebrating for themselves, but several said they were celebrating the fact that the Tree of Love operates in Cass County, adding that they believe the service can save lives.

“My insurance did not pay for routine mammograms when I was diagnosed,” said cancer survivor Jackie Bowe. “I understand the importance of this.”

“If it can keep one woman from going through what we went through, it’s well worth everything,” added breast cancer survivor Martha Turney. “It’s wonderful.”

To donate to Tree of Love, visit Honor Credit Union or contact Beth Cripe at beth.cripe@ascension.org.

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