Charity aims to connect those with breast cancer to neighborhood help


By Samantha Tatro

A new start-up charity in San Diego takes the “love thy neighbor” mantra to heart.

The Shades of Pink Foundation, which recently received its nonprofit status, lets San Diego residents donate to temporarily provide aid to local women struggling with financial hardship as a result of a breast cancer diagnosis — giving direct and quick support to the brave women battling cancer around them.

The foundation gives out monetary grants to eligible women in the Greater San Diego Area.

At an event Sept. 26, the Wear Pink Cocktail Party in Encinitas, philanthropists and business leaders garnered $5,525 for the fledgling foundation.

The foundation has given out five grants so far.

Vembra Holnagel, a co-founding board member who corresponds directly with the grant recipients, said one particular story stood out.

A 58-year-old music teacher struggling with breast cancer had to have some of her lymph nodes removed and as a result was diagnosed with lymphedema, a condition that made her arm swell. She needed compression gloves, but her insurance would not cover it. Enter Shades of Pink, which gave her a grant to cover the cost of the gloves.

“She just wrote how excited she was to get those, and she was going to be able to go swimming again and get into her swimsuit, and she felt pretty,” Holnagel said, adding that the woman’s income had been reduced because of her battle with cancer. “She was just such an amazing person.”

The foundation officially launched last year but received its nonprofit status in July 2014. It then promptly began handing out grants to eligible and needy women whose cases were like that of the music teacher.

The charity was co-founded by Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters Christina Fulcher and Kianne Holnagel, who invited several other women to join them.

Bridget Garwitz, who came on board in the early planning stages and officially joined this year, said what drew her to the charity was how local the grants were.

“I think that research and finding cures are very worthy causes,” Garwitz said. “However, I like that our cause is geared toward individuals. These are people who are in the thick of their illness and are suffering, and there’s a lot of implications of having cancer that don’t involve just physical limitations.”

Those limitations include, for example, paying for child care, groceries, and various home bills that allow women to keep their lives going.

Holnagel said the charity provides more direct help to local women in need. When people donate to larger organizations, their dollars don’t necessarily have a local impact.

“Our dollars stay right in our local community. We are making a difference in women’s lives right now, right here,” Holnagel said.

“When someone donates to our foundation, that money is used to directly help a woman going through cancer today, who is having troubles today, not back to a national organization who sends it to local chapters.”

To donate to Shades of Pink, visit