Brent Beckwith once raised $2,300 in five minutes.
Beckwith, a Crystal Lake resident, went to a fundraiser for a young woman with cancer with volunteers from his organization and announced to the crowd that if they could fill a bucket with $1,000 in the next five minutes, his group would match it with the $1,000 check he had with him.
Five minutes later, the crowd had stuffed the jars with $2,300. All of the money went directly to the family that day, a trademark of Beckwith’s Andrea Lynn Cancer Fund organization dedicated to providing financial assistance to families in the middle of the fight against cancer.
“We look for the fundraisers in the area, and a lot of times we’ll just show up unannounced,” Beckwith said of his stealth giving. “You make a friend for life, and I value those friendships because you know they’re genuine.”
While the organization is named in honor of Beckwith’s mother, who died from cancer in 1993, it was an encounter with a 17-year-old named Eric Esterle, who had one of the rarest forms of spinal cancer, that inspired a lifelong dedication to helping others.
Beckwith said he met Esterle and was inspired by his positive view on life and refusal to be scared in face of the fatal disease. Beckwith raised $1,000 and surprised the family with the donation at a Relay for Life event.
“His dad came up and hugged me and started shaking and crying,” Beckwith said. “It was at that point I knew I wanted to start a charity. It was like, ‘Yeah.’ It was genuine. Money wasn’t going to some big corporation.”
What started as a small group of volunteers in 2006 steadily grew to become an official nonprofit in June 2007 and has provided more than $70,000 to families fighting cancer. The money has gone to everything from building a stairlift for a cancer patient who could no longer make the climb to car repairs so a family could get to chemotherapy treatments.
Beckwith even bought plane tickets for a family so they could get to a clinic that could potentially offer life-saving alternative treatments.
Melissa Brito, a volunteer with the organization, said it has been amazing to see the support grow each year to where the charity now holds successful annual events. Fundraisers include the Pumpkin Stampede in the fall, the Ride and Rally Against Cancer event in summer and the Walk on Water Ice Fishing Derby in the winter.
The Pumpkin Stampede drew more than 200 people last year to Lippold Park in Crystal Lake.
Brito heard about the organization through Beckwith’s father when he taught her high school health class. She eventually became involved and has seen firsthand the changes it makes in families fighting cancer and the volunteers.
“I’ve helped with fundraisers to fight cancer before, but there you’re doing charitable work to find a cure and those are still great opportunities,” Brito said. “But what struck me about this is they are giving all the money directly to those fighting right now. It’s not for a cure, it’s to help someone immediately.”
Heading a charity while working full time has its challenges and frustrations, Beckwith said, but he cannot envision a day where he stops trying to give as much as he can to those who need it most.
“People used to shovel their neighbors’ driveway when they were sick just because it was a nice thing to do, but you don’t see that anymore,” he said. “I just want to help people, and now I’m on this train. I’m not sure where it’s going to take me, but I’m on it for the ride.”
Information about Beckwith’s charity can be found at www. andrealynn.org.