SAN FRANCISCO -- The last time Alice Heiman participated in the Susan G. Komen walk in San Francisco to raise money for breast cancer, she gathered a group of friends and made a big trip from her home in Reno to support a cause close to her heart.
This year, though, nine months after the national organization sparked outrage when it refused to fund Planned Parenthood, she's ignoring donation requests that keep popping up in her inbox and has no plans for a return trip.
She's not alone. Just days before Sunday's 5k Race for the Cure along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, registration is down about 50 percent from last year. Donations to the local chapter are down as well, nearly 65 percent, to $76,000 so far this year compared with $212,000 at this time last year.
And that's despite the fact that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure's San Francisco-Bay Area affiliate denounced within a day the controversial move in January by the Dallas-based headquarters to stop funding Planned Parenthood. The national board had cited a new rule that excludes funding groups under federal investigation. Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services along with breast cancer screenings and other care, was the subject of an investigation launched by a Florida congressman who opposes abortion. Within days, however, the national organization reversed its decision after public outcry, fueled by social media postings that went viral.
Still, the effects
"It's like, wait a minute. You're denying women who can't otherwise afford a mammogram? Really? To me this is abhorrent," said Heiman, 53, of Reno, who has lost several friends to breast cancer. "I haven't given any money to them this year and I've always given to them in the past."
Maria Sousa, executive director of the local Komen organization in San Francisco, said she understands that people might want to send a message to the national organization by boycotting
"The true pain,'' Sousa said, "is going to be felt by the women who don't have insurance in our community."
Mike Smith, executive director of the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, the largest beneficiary of the local affiliate, speculates that his nonprofit could lose $100,000 of the $275,000 in funding it received from Komen each of the past two years. That's enough to pay emergency rent, utilities, groceries or other expenses for 100 low-income women who are too sick to work.
"I understand fully why someone would choose not to walk," Smith said. "The challenge we have when people say 'I'm mad at Komen and I'm not doing the Race for the Cure,' is that we have to explain that you're not really hurting Komen nationally, but you're hurting programs locally like ours."
While the local Komen affiliate sponsors Sunday's walk, the national group operates a "3-Day" 60-mile walk that starts Friday in San Francisco. Registration and donations for that event are also down, although officials wouldn't say by how much.
Steve Reed, 59, of Berkeley, says he, too, was upset with the Komen organization after its stand on Planned Parenthood, but he plans to walk the 3-Day again this weekend with his brother anyway.
"When everything played out, my opinion is they realize they made a mistake," Reed said. "The women who pushed them into that decision left the organization. They apologized and gave back their funding (to Planned Parenthood). Let's move on. It's a great cause. You don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
Still, in several cases it was a hard sell as he reached out to his friends to raise the required $2,300. Two people turned him down because of the controversy. He didn't ask three other friends who had already expressed their displeasure with Komen.
"There was one person who said, 'I'm not in favor of Komen because of Planned Parenthood, but I'm in favor of you so I'm giving to you,' " Reed said.
Nanea Hoffman of Santa Clara, whose grandmother died of breast cancer and who has walked for Komen in the past, has refused to walk this year.
"I thought it was all about saving women's lives, not necessarily making political statements," Hoffman said. When she received an email from Komen asking her to participate again this year, she deleted it.
"I thought, maybe the Avon Foundation will be getting my money this year."
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.
MORE ON THE WALK
What: Susan G. Komen Bay Area Race for the Cure
When: Sunday, Sept. 9
Where: Ferry Building, San Francisco