Cancer fundraising auction planned

CHESTER – Most people in Chester know Mary Lawrence as a longtime community activist and the proprietor of River Island Collectibles, 448 Carolina Ave.

But she’s also a two-time breast cancer survivor who, in the last six years, has used her experience to raise support for other people touched by the disease. The founder of the “Holding Hands for Hope” cancer fundraiser, Lawrence, 55, is once again accepting donations for the annual auction.

The event started out six years ago as a small, balloon-launching, hand-holding event on Third Street and continues to grow each year, she said. “I get people asking me now, ‘Are you going to do that again?’ ” she said.

This year’s “Holding Hands for Hope” auction is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the Chester Municipal Building’s multipurpose room. Items may be donated up until the day of the event by calling (304) 387-0054.

All proceeds from the auction benefit the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, a state agency that helps uninsured and underinsured women receive breast and cervical cancer screening services.

Nine years ago, Lawrence, fighting breast cancer for the second time and facing the prospect of huge medical bills as a self-employed, uninsured woman, asked for help from the state program. She got it in the form of a medical card that helped pay for chemotherapy, surgery, prescription medicine and doctor’s visits.

“It was wonderful knowing that I didn’t have to sit there and wonder, ‘How am I going to pay for this?’ It really put peace in my mind,” she said.

Once she recovered, Lawrence started to think about ways to give back for all the help she received. That’s when she came upon the idea for “Holding Hands for Hope.”

She chose the hand-holding theme because, unlike fundraisers that involve running, walking or other strenuous physical activities, “everybody can hold hands.”

This year’s event includes, among other donated items, an original painting by West Virginia artist Mary K. Vrana. The painting, titled “Living Hope,” was donated by Vrana to the state screening program because she also received services there, Lawrence said.

“She donated it to them, and they’re, in turn, donating it to the auction,” she said. Lawrence likes the fact that the artwork and the auction both have the word “hope” in them.

Calling the auction will be licensed auctioneer Bennie Parr of Weirton, who is donating his services. The auction will be preceded by a balloon launch in the city building parking lot.