Participants addressed more than 15,000 letters Saturday night to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through the university’s fourth annual Up ’til Dawn fundraising event.
From 9 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday at the Recreation Center, students asked for donations in letters written to family and friends. The event featured a military theme and a guest speaker, Max, who is in remission from acute myeloid leukemia.
He was there with his mom to talk about how St. Jude impacted both of their lives.
“It was awesome to see a patient in person and to hear that he and his family were so appreciative of St. Jude and our event at SIU specifically,” said Joseph Gulick, a senior from Villa Grove studying physiology. “Max’s mother is actually an SIUC alumni, which shows just how close this cause is to even our students. This could happen to any person, and St. Jude is there to help that person and his or her family.”
The survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, was 4 percent in 1962. Today, the disease’s survival rate is 94 percent, according to St. Jude’s research website.
Many participants said they or someone they know has been affected by cancer. Lane Kreiling, a sophomore from Mason City studying plant and soil sciences, said St. Jude is a large part of his family because his cousin was diagnosed at age 4 and lost her battle two years ago.
“Having a guest speaker come is an awesome thing so you can hear the real life story of somebody,” he said. “It hits home a lot harder. You can feel the emotion that comes out when they’re talking, and you can feel what they’ve gone through.”
Illinois Army National Guard members were also attended to show support and help with various activities.
“People are definitely having fun, and it’s a great turn out,” Sgt. 1st Class Graham Young, of Marion, said. “It’s great for the cause. This is pretty amazing to get a bunch of college students out to support fighting cancer on a Saturday night in Carbondale.”
Gabrielle Lowe, a senior from Rochester studying architecture, said she has participated in Up ’til Dawn for four years, and this year seemed more organized with more tables and a well-incorporated theme.
“My whole family is really excited about it,” she said. “My goal is 100 letters. It’s my last year to participate, and I want to go out with a bang. I called my grandma and she sent me the Christmas card list. I posted on my mom’s Facebook wall. I even called my cousin who lives in Florida. My family expects letters from St. Jude this time of year.”
Students were asked to bring 20 addresses for pre-written letters provided by St. Jude that ask for donations to the hospital. St. Jude also provides all mail postage. The event also included a “bad letters” board, where names were placed of people who turned in phony addresses or ones that weren’t addressed to an individual. A running tab of who sent the most “good” letters was also displayed.
“This board was to show folks that filling out bad letters wastes money of the families at St. Jude,” said Danielle Sheley, a senior from Taylorville studying interior design and Up ’til Dawn’s executive board director. “I feel it was effective in showing how much it does effect the letter counting process and the whole goal of raising funds for St. Jude.”
Each letter returns an average $28 to St. Jude hospitals, according to information from the event, and roughly 47 cents is wasted per fake address. Gulick, who is also a member of the executive board, said the organizers seem to have a problem with fake letters every year no matter how much they try to convey that they are unacceptable.
“The bad letters board was a way that we were trying to prevent bad letters from happening,” he said. “It makes the person writing those letters accountable in front of the entire group of people, and it displays the organization that they are representing. It may seem harsh, but we are really trying to eliminate any wasted money that could be going to saving children’s lives.”
Students were also able to partake in activities like inflatables, face painting, caricatures, Twister and a photo booth, as well as main attractions such as a step show and Fear Factor competition.
“It is so great that students are willing to volunteer their time and skills to this event,” Sheley said. “All the activities as a whole were successful. This kind of dedication is what Up ‘til Dawn strives for on our campus.”