Maitland Cancer Appeal Committee donates $300,000 to cancer research in 2017

BIG BUCKS: Maitland Cancer Appeal secretary Lesley Flannery, founder and publicity officer Alice Bennis and vice president Ingrid Hayman. Picture: Simone De Peak
BIG BUCKS: Maitland Cancer Appeal secretary Lesley Flannery, founder and publicity officer Alice Bennis and vice president Ingrid Hayman. Picture: Simone De Peak

A million dollars raised for cancer research – not bad for about 20 elderly women who collect most of the money through a Rutherford op shop.

But the fact the money was raised by volunteers from op shop sales is exactly how Maitland Cancer Appeal Committee has raised so much.

“If you give me a dollar, you can guarantee 95 per cent of it will go towards cancer,” founder Alice Bennis said. “It all stays in the Hunter.”

The committee handed over $100,000 last week to Dr Nikola Bowden of the University of Newcastle to support her work in ovarian cancer research.

That was on top of the $200,000 donated to pancreatic cancer earlier this year and the hundreds of thousands more for melanoma, leukemia, prostate, breast and brain cancer in the past decade.

It’s a lot of money for a little shop but generous in-kind and monetary support from local businesses, and the fact that the op shop is owned and not rented, both help.

“Everybody in Maitland owns a bit of that shop … and it doesn’t smell like a second hand shop!” Ms Bennis said.

The volunteers are passionate and work hard for the money too, Ms Bennis said, who is the founder, publicity officer and “gofor”.

“If anything goes wrong, they ‘gofor’ me,” she said with a laugh.

The group stemmed from a push for cancer services in the Hunter 35 years ago, which resulted in the establishment of the oncology unit at the Calvary Mater. Unfortunately it was a cause that hit far too close to home for Ms Bennis.

“I lost a daughter through leukaemia, she was 15 and died in 1971,” Ms Bennis said.

Back then, treatment was nowhere near as advanced as it is now and it was only available in Sydney.

“We had to take her to the Royal Prince Alfred in Sydney,” Ms Bennis said. “It took her away from the family, it took me away from the family.

“If she’d have been alive today I think they would have saved her.

“Cancer is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s a terrible disease, it’s got no barriers.”

But Ms Bennis used that experience to drive for a cure.

“When it hits you I think you realise then you’ve got to do something. [Fundraising] is my way of keeping her in my life.

“I’m quite confident one day there will be a cure.”