SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A cold, overcast morning that even included a brief rain shower weren't enough to dampen the annual Day of Hope.
Now in its fourth year, the fundraiser held Tuesday in the Santa Maria Valley, as well as Lompoc and Nipomo, directly benefits patients at Mission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria.
Once again, community members shined bright, donating thousands of dollars to those in need.
"Everyone is doing this for the right reasons," said volunteer Deb Jeffers, while volunteering on corner of Blosser and Betteravia Roads. "We all want to help our patients here on the Central Coast battle cancer and all of us are doing it for the same reason."
Hundreds of volunteers participating in teams raised money through the sale of $1 special edition Santa Maria Times newspapers.
The Day of Hope was held from 7 a.m. to noon. According to organizers, more than 11,500 papers were sold.
"Our city does this all the time," said Santa Maria mayor Alice Patino, who sold papers in front of City Hall. "No matter what we're doing, the city comes together. We have a great city. It's a very giving city."
Wearing bright orange aprons, the volunteers have become a familiar sight to motorists driving to work and school since the event was created in 2014.
"Over the last five years, we've given $700,000 away to patients," said Dr. Monica Rocco, who has practiced at Mission Hope since its inception. "That's a lot of money that we have given back to the patients."
The money is not spent on equipment, staffing or research. Instead, it helps to fund the numerous programs and services, allowing Mission Hope to provide care going far beyond medical treatment.
"It almost always brings tears to their eyes when we tell them, we can help them pay their rent, we can help them pay for gas," said Dr. Rocco. "Sometimes we can help pay utility bills, so the patients are just so relieved. It's hard enough to hear you have cancer, but then when they're under financial hardships when they're undergoing cancer treatment, we're able to alleviate some of the financial stress that they're going through."
Now celebrating its fifth year since opening in spring 2012, Mission Hope is the first fully-integrated comprehensive cancer center on the Central Coast.
"I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July and went through chemotherapy at Mission Hope. They were a great group of people there. I had infusions and worked with the oncologists and am now cancer free," said Lenore Ward, who spent her morning selling papers at the intersection of Main Street and College Drive.
For cancer patients like Ward, seeing the turnout shows them many people, including strangers, truly care.
"We all need help every once in a while and it's good to see the community all pitch in and help when people are in need," Ward said.
Several hundred volunteers at about 50 different locations participated in the Day of Hope.
Those who gave their time represented businesses, organizations, churches, schools and other various organizations.
Among those were a boisterous group of nurses at the intersection of Main and College. Each year, the group dresses in a different theme. This year, it was super heroes.
"We just want to help our patients and continue to give to the community because our hearts are in it 100 percent," said hospice care nurse Monica Guzman, while wearing a Captain America costume, that included a mask and Superman cape.
Day of Hope organizers will determine the final amount raised over the next few days and should release the total in the near future.
Since opening, more than 5,500 patients have received care at the facility located next to Marian Regional Medical Center.
Among those, more than 330 have participated in clinical trials, receiving cutting edge treatment e through its affiliation with the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The Day of Hope was held from 7 a.m. to noon, but donations are still accepted throughout the day.
Donations can be made through the Mission Hope website at https://www.supportmarianmedical.org/marian-foundation-home-page