Katie Walls, 23, of Bel Air, always wanted to be an event planner. She remembers growing up with a mom who threw "the best birthday parties," a path she wished to follow.
She also lost a grandmother to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002. She remembers the stress on her loved ones, not just from a cancer diagnosis but also the need to commute from doctors' offices, to specialists, to hospitals and back.
So this fall, Walls sprang into action, looking to put her inherited skills in party planning to good use.
"We called the hospital and they said, 'Hey, we're building this cancer center next fall. It's great timing' and their kickoff was actually in the beginning of October," Walls said.
And so Bras for a Cause was born. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, Walls, along with family, friends and local partners, threw a party to grab the awareness and support of her community. They counted and hung more than 2,200 bras on the side of the road outside of Plaza Ford on Belair Road in Fallston to raise money for the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation, with a $1 pledge for each garment. Walls estimated they will donate a check for $5,000.
The Patricia D. and M. Scot Kaufman Cancer Center, part of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013. This will allow Harford and Cecil County residents to receive cancer care under one roof, instead of having to make long commutes to several health care providers.
"Everybody is always donating to Susan G. Komen, and all of those [charities], which are really good causes, but we wanted to keep it within the county," Walls said. "Seeing my grandmother have to drive all the way to Baltimore for cancer treatment, it's hard. You already have enough stress when you get the diagnosis, but then you have to have that long drive down to the city at least once a week. So we feel like it's good to go locally."
Walls, whose father is the president of Plaza Ford, borrowed the idea from another auto dealer in Frederick. Throughout October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month, bras were collected from multiple donation centers in Harford County.
The pink-clad counting party featured country music, a raffle with small prize giveaways and a few dozen energetic volunteers stringing up bras for display along the side of the road. Next, they will be washed, packaged and then donated to local shelters and women's prisons.
But as they hung, drivers reacted with surprised faces, giggles and everything in between.
Sarah Karantonis, the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation's director of advancement, received the call from Walls earlier this fall and after meeting, got the wheels turning on their partnership.
"We were very open to discussion about the event and what she was thinking of, so we said we would be privileged to be beneficiaries of such an event and would support her anyway we can along the way," Karantonis said.
Money from the event will go to support Upper Chesapeake's multiple cancer programs, which will soon be housed in Harford County's first full-treatment cancer center.