|By Michelle Kealey|
WESTFIELD In 2002, Deborah Callahan, Westfield native and current West Springfield resident, along with friends and family members created Team Callahan in honor of her mother, Mary, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2000.
The team was created to raise funds for Alzheimer's research and last year it hosted the first Alzheimer's Picnic, which raised $8,000.
Team Callahan is currently putting the finishing touches on the Second Annual Alzheimer's Picnic, which will take place on July 30.
Callahan said that during the team's first year, she made the t-shirts herself with stencils and paint. The team members sought donations to participate in the Alzheimer's walk by walking around with containers for people to fill.
"When someone gets Alzheimer's, it's like a helpless feeling that you have to do something, but there is nothing you can do," Callahan said. "The only thing that made me feel better was to help eliminate the disease."
She said that besides the annual walk, there was no other big benefit to raise money for Alzheimer's research.
"I thought if I created a big benefit and tried to get other families with Alzheimer's involved, it would be a great way to generate money," she said.
When she launched the picnic last year, she thought that she would raise about $2,000 or $3,000 and never expected to raise $8,000. She said there was also a possibility that she might have lost money.
She explained that she called the bands to perform and paid for them.
"It was worth a try," she said. "[We all] have to start somewhere."
She said that the fact that so many tickets were sold before the picnic made her "feel really good."
She added that she had no idea how much money was raised until she went home to count it.
Although the picnic is not until the end of next month, Callahan is seeking additional food donations and is hoping to sell tickets.
The picnic will take place at the Sons of Erin, which has donated the pavilion for the picnic.
Callahan said that she chose the Sons of Erin as the location for the picnic because her family has been a member there since it opened in 1984.
She said that her father is active in the club and her mother always loved listening to the Irish music.
She said that as soon as the first picnic ended, she booked the Sons of Erin again for this year.
In addition to the site donation by the club, Callahan said that a number of other donations have been made to Team Callahan for the picnic.
She said that over 80 raffle prizes have been donated, which include items such as an autographed baseball by Red Sox player Mark Bellhorn, a car from Fathers and Sons for a weekend, tickets to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and a four pack of passes to watch the Portland Sea Dogs.
She explained that individuals who purchase raffle tickets can place the tickets into a bucket next to the prize they hope to win so that if they do win, they get what they wanted.
Area businesses have donated the pig for the pig roast, 250 hamburgers and 100 hot dogs. Some of the donors include Ye Olde Butcher Shop in West Springfield and North Elm Butcher Shop in Westfield.
She said that food items such as buns, french fries and more hot dogs and hamburgers are still needed.
She is also looking to have someone donate a pavilion-like tent in the event that more that 500 people attend the picnic. The Sons of Erin Pavilion can hold up to 500 people.
A bounce house has been donated and someone has volunteered to do face painting to entertain the children.
"So many people want to help and it is great that they are so open to helping," she said.
Last year, Callahan said 500 tickets were sold, but 250 people attended the picnic.
She added that she hopes to sell tickets early again this year to get an idea about the number of people who may attend the picnic.
She explained that left-over food from the picnic is not wasted.
Last year, Team Callahan donated the extra food to the homeless shelter in Westfield and the food pantries in Springfield and Palmer.
Callahan said that the name Team Callahan will soon be changed to Team Callahan and Friends because so many people help with the cause.
She said that she is hoping the picnic will continue to grow. She said, for example, when people hear the name Katelynn's Ride, they know it is for childhood cancer.
"I would like it to get that big," she said.
She said that she knows many people who are affected by Alzheimer's Disease and it has become an epidemic. She added that so many people the disease is affecting an increasingly younger age group.
In addition to the picnic, Team Callahan hosts a bus trip to a Red Sox game and has a Tag Sale to raise money for research.
She said that all of the money raised is given to the Alzheimer's Association at the annual walk, which takes place each September.
Last year, Callahan said that the team donated a total of $12,000, making it the first place team in western Massachusetts and fourth in all of Massachusetts. The team won an award from the Alzheimer's Association.
This year's picnic, which will take place from 12 to 7 p.m., features the bands Orange Crush and SDrum.
Orange Crush will play at 12:30 p.m. and SDrum will begin performing at 4 p.m.
Tickets for the picnic are $15 and are available at the Sons of Erin, by calling 562-5927 and the Alzheimer's Association in Springfield.
Anyone or any local business who would like to donate items for the picnic can call Callahan at 746-8271.
For more information about Team Callahan, visit www.teamcallahan.org.