Raising Awareness and Funds to Fight Inflammatory Bowel Disease

May 14, 2019

Many IGA owners help give back by helping to advertise events that raise funds for community members who are suffering from a disease or chronic condition. Anna and Rick Stewart, owners of the Susanville IGA store in Susanville, California, are no exception. They always have a fundraiser going on, from raising money to help an employee whose son has leukemia, to food donations and Toys for Tots holiday drives, to raising funds for Paradise Fire victims and the local Humane Society.

But when it comes to raising awareness and funds to help find a cure for Crohn’s disease, the issue is very personal to them. Five years ago, the Stewarts’ then 8-year-old granddaughter Nikki was diagnosed with Crohn’s, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the digestive system, and watching her suffer was the hardest thing they’ve been through.

“She was rail thin. She was in such pain and couldn’t eat anything. If that wasn’t bad enough, she had lost her confidence, as her body turned on her and became unpredictable,” said Anna Stewart.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCF), Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis—known collectively as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)—affect an estimated 3.1 million Americans. The fastest growing patient population is children under the age of 18. While Nikki found some treatments that have offered relief from her symptoms and pain, currently at age 13 she has to go to the hospital every six weeks for medical infusions that last four to five hours. Which is why the Stewarts, Susanville IGA, and the extended community are doing their part to raise funds for CCF to advance research into what causes this illness and help find a cure for it.

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Each spring, the Stewart family organizes a team to participate in Northern California’s Take Steps CCF fundraiser walk. This year’s walk is taking place May 18 in Sacramento and the Stewarts’ “Team Uni-Crohn” has a goal to raise $10,000. (Click here to check out their team page and to make a donation.) In the past four years of being part of the event, they’ve raised between $5k and $11k each year, said Stewart, who credits her IGA “family” as important contributors and supporters. To promote the event, the Stewarts put up signs and donation boxes in the store. In addition to recruiting friends and family to walk, many employees have been part of the team, and have made financial contributions.

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For Stewart, CCF’s impact is twofold: in addition to funding important research, the foundation gave her granddaughter Nikki her confidence back. Each year the foundation picks a local hero to feature at the Take Steps walk and a few years ago Nikki took a turn in the spotlight. “She got up on the steps of the state capital and told her story,” said Stewart. “That was huge.” Also a help in Nikki’s recovery: the foundation runs Camp Oasis, a weeklong camp for kids suffering from Crohn’s, that hosts 12,000 youth at 12 locations nationwide each year.

“The activities at camp are wonderful, if you ask Nik about her favorite she responds THE FOOD,” writes Stewart on her blog The Green Grocerette. “She also loves camp's fishing, horseback riding, and themed dances. So important for these kids. Knowing they're capable and not alone.”

If you would like to help the Stewarts and Team Uni-Crohn meet their goal for the Take Steps CCF fundraiser, visit this page.

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