Friday, August 19, 2011 The Intelligencer
Pinwheel fighting cancer in style
Elaine Kern lets the clothes go for free because she understands you can't put a price on a cancer-free world.
The owner of The Pinwheel Consignment Shop at 10 Atkinson Drive in Doylestown for the past five years is aware that a cure for cancer cannot be casually purchased off the rack in the ideal size and color. Much like digging for rare diamonds deep within the Earth's crust, only hard work gets it done. Cancer ignores pleas to leave, only sheer will and determination can toss it out the door.
And so every three weeks, Kern fill between six and eight humongous trash bags with unsold but perfectly good items. This woman on a mission loads the bags like Santa the night before Christmas - with a mission and a smile. She stuffs them with clothing, footwear, scarves, gloves, jewelry and handbags, totaling about $700. She packs them for the next morning, when the big truck from the American Cancer Research Center and Foundation comes from Philadelphia to get them. The big truck with the big mission.
The ACRC then takes the baton and runs with it. It sells the items to fund research on cancer and other chronic diseases in their laboratories.
This has been the drill at The Pinwheel for the past four years. Four years of giving and packing and stuffing and helping kick cancer to the curb.
Kern sees the faces of cencer in what she describes as her upscale shop for women and teens. Customer upon customer buy scarves to cover hairless heads during radiation and/or chemotherapy.
"Every time I see one of them come in it touches me," said Kern. "Some women come in and buy clothes a size or two smaller than they usually wear because they've lost weight because of their cancer. Rather than go to a regular store, they come here and wear our stuff till they're cured and can go back to wearing their old clothes. It's for those people that we do what we do."
The faces of cancer have walked not only through The Pinwheel front door, but also into Kern's life. Four years ago, just about the time Kern was playing Santa for cancer research, her mom, Claire Spencer, died at 74 after a couragious 2 1/2 year batttle with colon cancer. Kern's father, William, has battled bladder cancer the past two years.
"He's doing remarkably well," Kern said of her 81-year-old dad. "Hopefully he'll be a survivor."
Her mom. Her dad. Does she worry about herself?
"I do," Kern said. "It's scary. I worry about it."
Kern's daughter and partner in The Pinwheel also sees the faces of cancer. As a critical care nurse at Doylestown Hospital, Julie Roemhild assists many patients dealing with late-stage cancers.
"Julie sees it more than anyone," Kern said. "She knows how important it is that we help raise research dollars."
The Pinwheel, which takes possession of items not sold after six weeks and are left unclaimed by their owners, is not just another consignment shop. Many others have items for sale, but Kern's has the goods. For the past three years, Kern has had a relationship with the Central Bucks School District's Work Based Learning Program. She allows special-needs students to work in the shop to help develop their job, social and communication skills.
"We try to get them to work the register, put things out for sale, talk to customers - anything that helps them develop," Kern said. "It's been very rewarding."
Santa Kern will continue to load those sacks with fund-raising items. She says she'll do it for as long as she owns the shop. She'll do it to put smiles on the faces of cancer.
And you can't put a price on that.