Banquet supports foundation’s mission

Published 9:25 pm Monday, March 19, 2018

The Suffolk Sickle Cell Foundation held its annual Charity Awards Banquet on Saturday evening, and guests at the banquet helped raise $6,250.

Felton Whitfield, president of the foundation’s board, didn’t set a specific goal for the banquet, but he made his objectives for the foundation clear.

“Our main objective over the next 10 years is to make awareness our top priority,” Whitfield said. “We want to provide education. One year, we set a goal of $50,000, and my board said I was crazy, but we did it. I am led by the Lord to ask for certain goals, but this year we didn’t make one.”

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Sickle cell disease describes a group of inherited red blood cell disorders that cause a variety of symptoms and complications, including acute and chronic pain, anemia, infections, gallstones and weakness of many organs, including the heart, kidneys and eyes. In America, one in every 365 black children is born with sickle cell disease.

Among the crowd at the Saturday banquet, held at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront, was state Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax — who was the guest speaker — and elected Suffolk city officials. Spruill has been a friend to Whitfield, and the senator has long fought for sickle cell legislation.

“The senator has given us a lot of support,” Whitfield said. “In the past, Sen. Lionell Spruill and other senators have been a great support for sickle cell legislation.”

This year, the Virginia General Assembly passed HB 1362, and the bill requires any Department of Health-contracted laboratory to provide screening tests for time-critical disorders for newborns and children seven days a week. Testing for sickle cell is included in this bill.

The bill is currently on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk, and he has until April 9 to sign it.

“We are here to work hard to make sure the sickle cell community has the resources they need,” Fairfax said. “Thank you all for raising awareness. This affects all of us, and we’ve got to fight and show how we are in this together.”

Fairfax also gave words of encouragement to the banquet guests before he left to return to Richmond.

“Sickle cell is inherited, and that is the cruelty of the disease. Most of the people have to sit there and think ‘why me,’” Fairfax said. “No matter how dark today may seem, tomorrow might be brighter. This is all of you repaying a spirited debt by creating a brighter future for everyone. I am thankful for the work you are doing.”

Before the conclusion of the banquet, Whitfield called upon the guests to make a donation to the cause.

“We need not only your prayers, but we need your finances. We need to get sickle cell awareness up, and we need your support in this endeavor,” Whitfield said. “A lot of folks don’t know about it. I come across people that know nothing about the sickle cell trait.”

“It is important to go forth in raising funds and aid the clients. We try and give these families Christmas dinners and help with medical bills. Some of those affected don’t even have medical insurance.”

Those who wish can still donate money throughout the year to the foundation. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 19575, Suffolk, VA 23439. For more information, the foundation can be reached at 488-4867.