Two participants in last year’s Shade of Pink Foundation walk at the Detroit Zoo share an embrace.

Two participants in last year’s Shade of Pink Foundation walk at the Detroit Zoo share an embrace.

Photo provided by Karla Sherry

Shades of Pink fundraiser moves from zoo to Zoom

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published July 21, 2020

METRO DETROIT — The nonprofit Shades of Pink Foundation, which provides temporary financial assistance to breast cancer patients, had three weeks to produce a virtual evening of entertainment, fundraising, celebration and support.

And it did.

From 8 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 2, “A Wild Time at the Zoo-m” will include family fun for all ages, including Irish dancers, a Zumba performance, a survivors corner, an in memoriam tribute, client stories, speakers, an online auction and more.

Due to social distancing and health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Detroit Zoo canceled the group’s annual walk, which due to reduced capacity had already been limited to 500 of the 1,500-3,000 attendees it normally attracts.

The walk is the organization’s largest fundraiser — this year’s pre-pandemic goal was $300,000.

Shades of Pink Foundation co-founder Dr. Pamela Benitez, a breast cancer surgeon who operates a private practice out of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said the goal now seems bold, as several sponsors have pulled out, but that teams and individuals have already raised upward of $90,000.

The nonprofit began in 2005 to fill a local void in assistance for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, including many with insurance, who needed temporary financial help with mortgages or rent, utilities, groceries, child care and other expenses.

Shades of Pink began serving only the tri-county area, but has since expanded to include not only Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, but also Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston, Monroe, Saint Clair and Washtenaw counties.

Since its inception 15 years ago, Shades of Pink has helped hundreds of women and given out approximately $1.8 million in grants, Benitez said. It relies on word of mouth, social workers and health care providers to get the word out about the foundation.

Shades of Pink pays bills directly to the mortgage, utility, car and other companies for a “nice and clean” way of operating, Benitez said, and generally distributes $160,000 to $180,000 per calendar year.

“We give up to $1,500 per person,” Benitez said. “As of July 1, we can no longer give out grants because our funds are down. We were moving along well during the first part of the year and had monies coming in for the walk, but now we do really need to refill the till, if you will, so we can start giving out grants.”

She said the organization still hopes to draw teams to register, do their own walks and get creative when it comes to fundraising, such as holding bottle and can drives.

The virtual event will be held in Benitez’s Birmingham backyard. She credited her husband’s involvement with the National Speakers Association and its guidance for the smooth transition to an online platform.

“We’re going to have four computers and two microphones and have the whole thing set up in the backyard,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really exciting.”

Shades of Pink Foundation Executive Director Karla Sherry said the organization helps 90-110 women and their families annually.

“We’ll help to cover expenses for one month or two,” Sherry said.

Sherry said the foundation has a client services committee that reviews cases and a social worker who figures out which bills need to be paid first. All patient information is redacted from the committee.

She said the organization had a successful fundraiser at the start of the year, but its other, smaller fundraisers have been canceled due to the pandemic.

“We’ve signed up almost 250 people so far,” Sherry said. “Many of our volunteers and participants are breast cancer survivors or relatives of breast cancer survivors who come back year after year.”

For more information about Shades of Pink or to register, volunteer or sponsor the virtual fundraiser, call (248) 320-1559 or visit

By the numbers
• 8,000 Michigan women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

• Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in Michigan women.

• 2,400 Michigan women lose their jobs each year due to time off for breast cancer treatment and recovery.

• 25% of breast cancer patients use up their entire financial savings during treatment.

• 33% of breast cancer patients turn to family and friends for financial help.

• 78% of Shades of Pink Foundation clients are gainfully employed at their time of diagnosis.

— Data provided by Shades of Pink Foundation