Dowagiac nonprofit gives $4,000 each to families of pediatric cancer patients

Published 9:58 am Friday, December 3, 2021

DOWAGIAC — When the father of a pediatric cancer patient looked at the donation his child received from a local nonprofit, his eyes welled with tears, and he said, “We can eat.”

The EliStrong Foundation, a nonprofit based Dowagiac, donated a total of $8,000 to two families with children being treated for cancer at Beacon Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital in South Bend on Monday.

Foundation board members Dan Ely, Chris Radics and Pat McMeeken delivered $4,000 each to the families of Jinger Vincent, 13, and Deakyn Farrell, 2. Vincent, of Culver, Indiana, is battling bone cancer, while Farrell, of Goshen, is being treated for leukemia.

The families had applied to the foundation over the summer, and because the foundation knew expenses must have been piling up, they made an extra generous donation, according to Ely.

“All of us agreed, it just made everything worthwhile to see their reactions,” Ely said. “I handed the envelope to Jinger’s mom, and you could tell she was just itching to open it. Finally, I said, ‘Open it up. It’s yours.’ So, she did. … then she walked over to her husband and showed him, and his eyes got big and teary, and said ‘we can eat.’”

During the visits with each family, the members of EliStrong shared the story of Elijah Alexander, for whom the foundation is named. Alexander, who is Ely’s grandnephew, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma – a cancerous tumor on the brain stem – at two years old in 2014.

“It was nice to be able to tell Eli’s story, about his recovery and remission, and tell them how healthy he is now,” Ely said, “just to give some hope for them.”

During and after Alexander’s treatment, the outpouring of support his family received made them want to start the foundation.

“We just decided after Eli became pretty well strong and somewhat back to normal that we wanted to do the same for others,” said Alexander’s grandmother, Dowagiac resident and treasurer of the Elistrong board Linda Alexander. “It’s a pay-it-forward kind of thing.”

The Elistrong became a federally-recognized nonprofit in 2016 and has helped as many families as they can get through the struggle of having a child with cancer. The organization has helped families from Northwest Indiana, as well as locally – including a child from the Pokagon Band, according to Linda Alexander.

“We don’t require them to tell us how they’re spending it or anything like that,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve turned down anybody.”

The foundation works with a social worker at Beacon Hospital to identify families in need, and then they can apply for aid. For Linda Alexander, the most rewarding part is delivering the money to the families.

“It brings you to tears,” she said. “We usually don’t tell them in advance how much they are getting. I like to see the surprise on their faces. … You can’t even express how much it means to you to be able to help other people like that.”

The foundation has several more families in line for donations, and also hosts an annual fundraising golf outing at Indian Lake Hills Golf Course.

To donate to EliStrong, send checks payable to EliStrong Foundation Inc., PO Box 754, Dowagiac, MI 49047.