In January, students at Trinity Catholic School took on a fundraising challenge as part of their celebration of Catholic Schools Week.

Students were looking to raise enough money to match the $500 grant the Ohio Catholic Federal Credit Union presented to support the cause -- the fight against pancreatic cancer -- student council had chosen for Trinity's Catholic Schools Week philanthropy.

Two Trinity students, eighth-grader Gabbie McCreary and her sister, sixth-grader Cece, lost their father, Sean, to pancreatic cancer in November 2018.

Gabbie serves as student council president.

On April 29, Trinity students celebrated when credit union outreach coordinator Dean Robinson returned to present a $2,000 check.

By raising $1,500, the students had done much more than match the grant.

"I'm blown away," Robinson said.

Out of the 10 Ohio schools that received the credit union's challenge grants this year, Trinity raised more than all but one of them, he said, add that the school that raised the most money is much larger than Trinity.

The fundraising effort was important to Trinity students, said seventh-grader and student council class representative Jacob Blubaugh.

"Cece and Gabbie are our friends, and it's been such a tough time for them," he said. "We wanted to raise as much money as we could so fewer people have to lose someone they love.

"It's just meant a lot to us to make sure they feel happy with what we've done to help stop pancreatic cancer from spreading to other people."

The fundraising effort, which extended through the end of April, was far more than student council expected, said Rece Hatem, a seventh-grade class representative.

"We were just hoping to raise $500 to match the grant," he said. "But it went way beyond that."

The student council tried to come up with fundraising ideas that would be fun for students "and I think that helped get more people involved," Rece said.

That included a cereal day, in which students could donate a dollar and have cereal for breakfast, plus a pajama skating party and an egg grab.

"That was the biggest thing by far. It really put us over the top," Rece said. "You pay 50 cents and get a little plastic egg and you might get a piece of paper inside that lets you get a prize."

The prizes included candy and other snacks or getting another egg, he said.

"We had 250 eggs, and we didn't know if we'd be able to sell all of them." Rece said. "But we sold out the first day and people bought them all again the next day and again the next day and the next day after that."

The eggs were sold during lunch periods, and the younger grades eat lunch first, he said. One day all the eggs were sold out before students in the upper grades went to lunch.

"People were upset they didn't have a chance to buy eggs that day," Rece said.

The funds from Trinity will be donated to the Columbus chapter of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Representatives from the chapter visited the school April 29 to accept the donation, thank the students and tell them more about PanCAN's mission.

Based in Los Angeles, PanCAN "battles pancreatic cancer through research, patient support and advocacy," said Brittany Holloway, November awareness chairwoman for the Columbus PanCAN chapter.

November is designated as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

"PanCAN's goal is to raise $20 million and to double the survival rate for pancreatic cancer by the year 2020," she said.

Since 2014, the five-year survival rate has increased 3% to 9%, Holloway said.

"We're really seeing some progress," she said.

One of those survivors is Sandra Mark, a Reynoldsburg resident who was diagnosed in 2012.

"Like a lot of people, I didn't know much about pancreatic cancer until I was diagnosed," she said. "I knew that Patrick Swayze had the disease, but I didn't understand how many people it impacts."

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

"That's because it's so hard to detect early," Mark said. "That's why education and raising awareness is so important. People feel some back pain and they think it's just old age or a strain from lifting something. By the time the cancer's diagnosed, it's often too late."

PanCAN offered her support "and put me in contact with other survivors," she said.

"We are a support group for each other. It helps you feel less alone and gives you strength."

Trinity's donation will enable the school to create a team for PurpleStride Columbus, a fundraising walk that will be Sept. 29 at McFerson Commons, 218 West St. in Columbus, said Kim Kern, a volunteer with the Columbus PanCAN affiliate.

Teams or individuals raise funds to participate in the annual Columbus walk, one of a number of events held throughout the United States, she said.

More information about PanCAN and the PurpleStride event is available at pancan.org.

Both Jacob and Rece said they would like to serve as student council officers next year as eighth-graders, and they both agree Trinity's support of PanCAN will continue.

"We'll definitely do another fundraiser next year," Jacob said.

"Our goal will be to raise even more money," Rece said.

Trinity Catholic School, 1440 Grandview Ave. near Grandview Heights, serves the St. Christopher, Our Lady of Victory, St. Margaret of Cortona and St. Francis of Assisi parishes.

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