By: Emily Wisner
In 2016, Anna Cianciolo held her first Longest Day fundraiser. At the time, her father had late-stage Alzheimer’s, and he has since passed on. Her experience with her father made her realize how much is still unknown about Alzheimer’s in the medical community, which is why she is so passionate about fundraising. Anna participated in the Longest Day again because, “The Alzheimer’s Association provided helpful resources and services for non-medical care, and I wanted to do what I could to support its continued availability to others.” In addition, she said that, “Being a researcher, I know the importance of grants to making scientific breakthroughs, so I also wanted to help fund the investigations that may one day lead to treatment and prevention.”
This year, Anna hosted another Longest Day event, “Meatballs for Memory.” On June 15, Anna turned her home in Springfield into a carryout restaurant and spent the day fulfilling people’s meatball orders. For months beforehand, she worked on spreading the word about her event and collecting orders. She created a Facebook event in March, posted a flyer at her gym, CrossFit Instinct, and emailed her colleagues at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine where she researches medical education.
“On the day of the event, I woke up at sunrise and started rolling and baking at 6:30 a.m.,” Anna said. “My husband and son filled orders while I cooked.” They opened their house at 10:30 a.m. and people stopped by all day until 8 p.m. to pick up their orders. People could order meatballs in sets of 3 for a $5 minimum, and all of the proceeds went to the Alzheimer’s Association. The timing of the event was perfect as it was right before Father’s Day, and many people used the meatballs for their celebrations. “It was such a fun day!” Anna said. “The highlight for me was hearing from people who ate the meatballs, in particular their stories for how they used them to make a special meal. I know Dad would have been thrilled.”
Many people made donations outside of the event as well. One of Anna’s colleagues, Larry Hurtubise, helped her fundraise by selling t-shirts at a local conference, the CGEA. He donated $5 for each shirt he sold. “I was so touched by the generosity of his spirit,” she said. In addition, her local grocery store, HyVee, gave a donation to help pay for meatball ingredients, and her gym featured the event in their app. Many of her friends helped out as well by lending her cooking equipment and taking her shopping at Sam’s Club. “I am fortunate to have such good people in my life,” she said. “Many of them had loved ones who’d suffered with Alzheimer’s too.”
Overall, Anna raised $3, 560 from 187 meatball orders as well as donations from more than 20 other people. “I hope my event helped others realize the value of the Alzheimer’s Association to all people living with the disease: patients, caregivers, and families alike.” Anna said. “I hope they will turn to it in their time of need, but I also hope that talking about Alzheimer’s will help them understand how serious this disease is and inspire them to do everything they can to delay the onset of symptoms.”
Anna recommends that others participate in Longest Day events, especially caregivers. “If you’ve lived through caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s, I think hosting a Longest Day event can give you a sense of empowerment over the narrative of your involvement with the disease,” she said. “It’s a way to influence in a positive way the story of how the disease shaped your life.” While she said that she can’t redo things she wishes she had done differently with her father, she can contribute to a better future for Alzheimer’s by participating in events like these.
Anna said she chooses to fundraise for the Alzheimer’s Association because “I have come to see the Alzheimer’s Association as the leading resource for learning about and coping with Alzheimer’s disease. In the event that another loved one develops Alzheimer’s, it will be the first place I turn to for ideas on how to ensure the best quality, most humane care possible, including care for myself.” Anna had a great time at her “Meatballs for Memory” event, and she’ll be doing other events in the future. “I am just staggered by the generosity of all who donated to my event,” she said. “I am so grateful and looking forward to doing this again.”