Published on Sep 29, 2022 at 08:32
Entering final year of five-year project, Norfolk County cancer survivor’s pumpkin patch market close to raising $200,000 for Juravinski
By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Jessica Durka celebrated her five-year remission from blood cancer on Aug. 30. This fall, the Norfolk County resident hopes to celebrate another milestone — raising $200,000 for the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton.
“This is our last year holding our fundraiser, so we hope to go out with our best year yet,” Durka told The Spectator ahead of Saturday’s grand opening of the Juravinski Cancer Centre Pumpkin Patch Market in Waterford.
“Our community donates every single item that we have here, whether it’s pumpkins, fall decor, fresh bouquets of flowers, pies and baked goods,” Durka said.
“Every dollar goes to Juravinski, so why not take a nice country drive down to Waterford and know that you’re making a difference at the cancer centre.”
Durka and her husband, James, were inspired to create the pumpkin patch fundraiser in 2018 after Durka had recovered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that took six rounds of chemotherapy at Juravinski to eradicate.
Durka’s father, Mark VanGoethem, hosts the month-long market at his farm.
“It’s really amazing. I’ve just watched it grow and grow,” said VanGoethem, who donates his entire harvest of about 8,000 pumpkins to the cause.
“They’re full of vigour and determination,” VanGoethem said of his daughter and son-in-law, as well as the many volunteers and local businesses who contribute to the event’s success.
“There’s a half a dozen farmers I can think of off the top of my head that grow pumpkins or gourds and are donating too,” VanGoethem said.
“They don’t want any money. It’s cancer, right? Just about everyone has a connection somewhere.”
The pumpkin patch raised $144,000 in four years for the hospital foundation, including a record $54,000 in 2021. Durka has her fingers crossed this fifth and final year will be a blockbuster.
“Our goal was always that $200,000 mark, so we’re really hoping we can reach that total this year,” she said. “It is a ton of work. We wanted to make sure we went out on a high note.”
Shoppers make the trip from well beyond Norfolk, including plenty of supporters from Hamilton and Burlington.
“A lot of people like to come back every year because it gives them a sense of honouring people, or for themselves if they’re cancer survivors,” Durka said.
“They connect with people and talk about their experiences, and feel a sense of helping and being able to give back.”
Each year, the Durkas donate the proceeds to a specific project at Juravinski connected to blood cancers. Past donations have supported the stem cell transplant unit and funded the purchase of a flow cytometer, which aids in the analysis of blood cells.
Durka said reaching her fundraising goal would fill her with “an immense feeling of gratefulness just to be able to make a mark, knowing $200,000 can certainly contribute a lot of things to the cancer centre.”
The farm market at 710 Old Hwy. 24 in Waterford is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., until Oct. 20. Follow jccpumpkinpatch on Instagram for updates.