Some cannot cover their medical bills. Others are trying to keep their utilities on. Whatever their needs, Cancer Awareness Foundation recipients say the organization has helped them.The nonprofit is funded primarily by proceeds from sales at three Off Island Thrift stores, run as for-profit businesses. In 2011, Cancer Awareness delivered an average of $21,000 each month collectively to people who had applied for financial assistance, according to records provided by Karen Matthews, director of the foundation.
Matthews says she rarely rejects an application -- "We don't turn anyone away unless they're in remission" -- after confirming with patients' doctors that they have cancer and that they need financial help.
About 25 cancer patients gathered Friday for a luncheon at the Off Island Thrift Store on U.S. 278 to collect their checks -- between $700 and $1,000 each.
They were unanimously supportive of Matthews and thankful for her foundation's assistance.
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"If I hadn't heard of this by chance, we'd be out on the streets," said Hilton Head Island resident Kathy Knight.
"We wouldn't have a roof, or electricity, or water right now," added her husband, Joe.
Alan Simpson of Sun City Hilton Head said the foundation came to the aid of his wife, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
"This place has been a godsend for us since December of last year," he said. "If it weren't for (Matthews), we'd be in awful shape."
Sandy Mecca of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry said the foundation has long been a source of comfort for her patients.
"This is such an affluent community, and it can be hard to imagine such hardships here," she said. "What they do doesn't just help (patients') bodies but their spirits."
Mary Ann Maude of Hardeeville, addressing her fellow patients at the luncheon, said she was thankful for Matthews' impact on her life.
"She's taken care of me for the past three years," she said. "I've never met someone with such a large heart."