Months After Scandal, Komen Sees Fundraising Drop

fromWOI

In the months since the controversy over the Susan G. Komen Foundation's shifting position on funding for Planned Parenthood, the organization has seen a decline in fundraising and attendance at its main event, annual races held around the country to raise money for breast cancer prevention and treatment.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. And in cities across the country, crowds of people dressed in pink have been running, and walking, in the Race for the Cure. But some participants - and their dollars - have been missing from these fundraisers for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This follows the outcry over the organization's decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. The foundation quickly reversed that move - but not quickly enough for many people, as Iowa Public Radio's Sarah McCammon reports.

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SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: At this weekend's Race for the Cure in Des Moines, it was hard to notice much of a dent in the crowd. A massive pack of runners, and walkers, streamed past the state Capitol and through downtown. Survivors wore special bright-pink T-shirts. And tacked to many shirts, and baby strollers, were handmade signs with the names of loved ones lost to breast cancer. Michelle Suckow is 46, and works in insurance in Des Moines.

MICHELLE SUCKOW: I'm a survivor. And I think Komen does great things for women, especially women who don't have money for mammograms.

MCCAMMON: Suckow says she was disappointed by Komen's initial decision to pull Planned Parenthood's funding for breast cancer screening. But overall, it didn't change her opinion of the organization.

SUCKOW: You know, in this economy, I respect their decisions. I respect their beliefs. And it doesn't impact my support whatsoever.

MCCAMMON: Not so for 27-year-old Emily Holley, who says she's been a supporter of the Komen Foundation for years. This year, though, when her employer held a fundraiser, she couldn't bring herself to donate to the group.

EMILY HOLLEY: It was weird for me not to do that because for so long, I've - you know, I've been like, oh, yeah. And this year, I've said no.

MCCAMMON: Holley lost a grandmother to breast cancer, and she says it's an issue she's always cared about.

HOLLEY: And I'm sure that next year, I won't feel quite so passionate. But I feel like they let me down. And I feel like I can't trust them as much.

ROGER DAHL: There's a lot of regret that this ever came to the point that it did, nationwide.

MCCAMMON: Roger Dahl is the executive director of the Komen Foundation's Iowa affiliate. Dahl says he's still crunching the numbers, but he's hopeful this weekend's race will be on par with other years, in terms of participation. In the days leading up to the event, he said fundraising was off about 20 percent, a number he says is consistent with other Komen chapters.

DAHL: And so I think, you know, folks at headquarters feel like, you know, whatever we can do that will restore people's willingness to support breast cancer, is a number one priority.

MCCAMMON: At this weekend's race, Christine Lebron-Dykeman says the controversy almost stopped her from running this year. Instead, she gave more money to Planned Parenthood, and ran in the Komen race.

CHRISTINE LEBRON-DYKEMAN: Had they not changed their policy, I would have backed out completely. But I appreciate the fact that they did.

MCCAMMON: The 42-year-old attorney, from the Des Moines suburbs, is the daughter of a breast cancer survivor. Lebron-Dykeman says Komen does a lot of good things for women.

LEBRON-DYKEMAN: I just think that, you know, the notion of think before you speak, or think before you act - they should have thought through the consequences.

MCCAMMON: Registration for Komen races has been down around the country this year; in some areas, by 30 percent. But organizers say they believe supporters are beginning to come back. For Marilyn Deppe of Grinnell, Iowa, the personal trumps the political. She lost a sister to breast cancer, and is a survivor herself.

MARILYN DEPPE: I think that Planned Parenthood should be funded, and I think they were wrong to deny it.

MCCAMMON: But that didn't keep you from walking today.

DEPPE: No, no.

MCCAMMON: That's because it's not about a particular organization, Deppe says, but about helping women with breast cancer.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Des Moines.

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