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Fewer people registering for Susan G. Komen races
DALLAS -- For years, Katie Sanchez participated in her local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, raising money annually to honor her aunt, cousin and a male friend -- all breast cancer survivors.
But when her local race rolls around this fall, she won't be there. She already donated her entry fee to Planned Parenthood.
"Pretty much everyone I walk with has decided to do something else," she said.
Sanchez and many other Komen supporters have abandoned the nation's largest breast-cancer charity since news emerged in late January that it had decided to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer-screening. Komen soon reversed that move following a three-day onslaught of criticism.
Organizers of individual Race for the Cure events -- 5K runs and walks that account for most of the charity's fundraising -- have seen participation decline by as much as 30 percent. Most also saw their fundraising numbers go down, although a couple of races brought in more money.
Race organizers acknowledge the effect of the Planned Parenthood debacle, which angered people on both sides of the abortion debate.
"I think there's no getting around the fact that the controversy did have an impact," said Leslie Aun, a spokeswoman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. "We're not back where we were. We know that it's going to take a while."
Sanchez, an occupational therapist from Denver, said she was upset when she learned that Komen had pulled the funding. And she wasn't mollified when the charity reinstated it.
"I appreciate that they changed their minds, but that was still too little, too late in my opinion," said Sanchez, who has participated in five races over the past several years.
Sanchez, who describes herself as pro-choice but not pro-abortion, said the flip-flop caused her to lose respect for Komen's decision-making process.
"If it's really that important to you, then make a decision and stick with it," she said.
Only nine races have been held since the Planned Parenthood controversy, but an Associated Press survey of affiliates for the Dallas-based charity showed that a downward trend is already taking shape.
A month before a southern Arizona race, the number of people registered was about half as many as last year.
A spokeswoman for the affiliate in Tucson, Gillian Drummond, said the group held a news conference to "save our race" and focused on getting the word out that most of the money raised at the event goes to grants for local services, including breast screenings, cancer treatments and education programs. The remaining 25 percent goes to national research.
"We just tried to connect with people that way and to show them that we do a lot of good locally," she said. "This is too valuable a race to lose."
By the time of the March 25 event, registrations had rebounded somewhat but were still about 30 percent lower than 2011 -- roughly 7,200 registrants compared with 10,000. The $425,000 fundraising total was down by about 25 percent.
Many affiliates, including the one in Tucson, released statements saying they disagreed with the decision to pull the funding. And, like Tucson, many affiliates were not currently providing grants to Planned Parenthood.
Out of a total of about 2,000 grants nationwide, 22 currently go to Planned Parenthood, Aun said.
In Baton Rouge, the Komen affiliate's March 10 race saw registration fall by about 10 percent. But the group raised about $85,000 more than last year to bring in about $589,000. The total crowd count -- compiled with help from police -- was the biggest ever, at 14,000 to 15,000. It included those cheering on participants.
"I think this is the natural progression where a lot of people in the past just knew that they wanted to support Komen, and now they're more people that understand the full range of where funds go," said the affiliate's executive director, Janet Dewey-Kollen.
For fiscal year 2011, Komen spent 83 percent of its money on its mission. Thirty-seven percent went to education, 23 percent to research, 16 percent to screening and 7 percent to treatment. Of the remaining, 7 percent went to administration and 10 percent to fundraising, Aun said.
Among longtime supporters, the controversy may have been the first time they reflected "on what they think matters," said Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania.
For some, the episode also probably resulted in a loss of confidence in management, Rosqueta said.
Herbert Krabel, owner of a marketing company in Winston-Salem, N.C., counts himself in that group. He does not plan to participate in any more races and remains troubled by the fact that funding was pulled at all.
Komen said it had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from future breast-screening grants because Planned Parenthood was the subject of an investigation launched by a Florida congressman at the urging of anti-abortion groups.
"It felt really that upper management was lying, really not being honest, about how the decision was being made to pull the funding," he said.
Others have not been swayed in their commitment to Komen.
Michelle Buchanan, a secretary from Koshkonong, Mo., said she'll participate in a race this fall in Little Rock.
Buchanan said her mother, who suffered from breast cancer, benefited from a Komen grant that helped provide screenings and treatments.
"I was pretty steady. I know that the Arkansas affiliate does good," she said, adding, "It just seemed like everybody got off focus a little bit from what the goal is."
A month before the April 14 race in Fort Worth, the affiliate was about 40 percent behind registration from the previous year. On the day of the event, participants numbered 10,655, about a 23 percent decline. Fundraising was down about 21 percent, at about $381,000.
"I think things started to turn when we started to go on the local news here to let people know what the impact would be," said Jennifer Wersal, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth affiliate.
Komen's central Indiana organization is holding a race Saturday. So far, participation is down by about 28 percent, and fundraising has tumbled by about 30 percent. In 2011, they had 37,500 participants and raised $2.6 million.
The decrease "could be significant for our grantees," said Dana Curish, the affiliate's executive director. "We understand that the people that will be hurt by this are the most vulnerable in our community who depend on us for services."