2011 September: SLICE OF HOPE

When I was told my mother had breast cancer, I wasn’t sure how to react. I was 15 years old and my grandfather, an important influence in my life, had recently passed away. I was still reeling from the effects of that loss when my mother told me about her diagnosis. The doctors said the outlook was encouraging, but the treatments were going to be anything but easy.

They were right on both counts. The treatments were harsh, but my mother survived and has been breast cancer free for two decades.

Unfortunately, not everyone diagnosed with the disease wins the battle. That was the case for Karen Mullen, wife of my friend Garrett Mullen. Though she fought the disease courageously, there was no cure for the type of breast cancer she had. Eventually, it was too much for her body to handle and she slipped away.

The sad truth is that approximately 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year. That’s roughly 110 breast cancer deaths each and every day. That’s simply not acceptable — but what in the world could I, or anyone else who isn’t directly connected to medical research, for that matter, really do about it?

As I pondered this last November and December around the holidays (a time of year in which we tend to be thankful for those we love), the light bulb went off: October is National Pizza Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month … considering I’m the editor of Pizza Today, why not find a way to put the two together?

This started a long chain of events that eventually led to Slice of Hope. The first thing I did was talk to my publisher, Pete Lachapelle. He is an avid cyclist and had recently gotten me into the sport as well. Together we’d discussed the fact that we’d like to put together a pizza industry cycling event, but we weren’t quite sure where to go with it. When I thought of pairing up pizza and breast cancer research, I went to Pete and said, “Here’s our cycling event. We’ll bike from Point A to Point B to raise awareness for breast cancer research. We’ll encourage pizzerias to donate to the cause. That way, not only will we do something good for society, but we’ll also help out our industry by showing the world how caring and giving and community-oriented pizzerias are.”

Pete liked the idea and told me to run with it. So I called Joe Fugere, founder of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle. Joe is not only an astute businessman, but he’s quite the philanthropist. I asked him what he thought about the idea. He loved it and said, “Let’s make this happen.”

Joe introduced me to Garrett Mullen. Since that time, Garrett and I have become good friends. I learned just before meeting Garrett that his wife, Karen, had lost her battle to breast cancer on December 15, 2010. Needless to say, Garrett was motivated to take a swing at the disease.

I had dinner with Garrett one night and told him about Slice of Hope. Garrett works with restaurants across the country, including pizzerias, and he was on board from the start. He even offered to launch a new charity, a legal 501(c)3 entity that could take tax-deductible donations. Initially, one of the many roadblocks I ran into when trying to launch and plan Slice of Hope was the fact that Pizza Today is a business, not a charity. Hence, any donations made to Slice of Hope wouldn’t offer a tax benefit to pizzeria donors. I didn’t like that. If a mom-and-pop shop were going to donate $500, I wanted that to be tax deductible. If a large chain like Domino’s were going to donate $10,000 (which the company did earlier this summer, by the way), I knew that would need to come with a tax break.

I looked into launching a legal charity. Let’s just say that it is time-consuming and expensive. So when Garrett offered to take on that heavy lifting, I was more than thrilled.

A few months later, the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation was formed. The money the pizza industry collectively raises through Slice of Hope will be handed to the Foundation. Because of this step, any money a pizzeria donates will be tax deductible. The Foundation has a six-person Board of Directors that has been charged with studying the effectiveness of America’s breast cancer research labs. Four of America’s leading breast cancer research institutions will benefit from funding from the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation. More importantly, the Foundation is committed to passing on 100 percent of the Slice of Hope money it receives. Because the Foundation is volunteer staffed, it is in a unique position to do this.

In other words, every dollar America’s pizzerias contribute will be used for the cause. That was important to me from the beginning.

Now, all we need is your participation. Have you made a donation to Slice of Hope yet? If not, visit www.PizzaToday.com, click on the Slice of Hope icon and fill out the electronic pledge form. Your involvement is crucial and can make a real difference.

When Pete and I cycle from Portland to Seattle October 4-7, we’ll be making sure every media outlet that shows up to cover the event knows how giving and community-oriented the pizza industry happens to be. Now, you just need to get the word out locally. See Scott Anthony’s take on this over the next couple of pages. He’s got some great ideas to get you started.