RED WING -- When cancer strikes, it can be devastating to the individual and the entire family. It can cause emotional, physical, and financial stress, but Pay It Forward Red Wing wants to help reduce that stress by giving cancer patients funds to help with essential bills.

“We wanted to do something locally to give people a break,” said Katie Hardyman Morem. “This is not really to pay their medical expenses, but for whatever they need. It might be to pay a house payment, a cellphone bill, or whatever else is causing stress, so they can focus on healing.”

Pay It Forward Red Wing provides a gift of $1,500 to cancer patients currently undergoing treatment. To make it easier for everyone involved, Mayo Clinic agreed to create an account within its system to administer the funds.

“Mayo doesn’t charge anything for these services,” said Pam Horlitz, community engagement specialist at Mayo Clinic Health System. “Every penny that they raise can go back out. Being in the medical community, we can verify the diagnosis to be sure that the money is being used for the right people.”

Horlitz said that the paperwork is not difficult, but that many people find the hardest part is making the first phone call to ask for the funds. She said many people feel that other people need the money more, or they are simply hesitant to ask for money.

“This is not needs-based,” Horlitz explained. “It is just that you have cancer, and you live in the Red Wing area. People can also call in and tell me about someone else, as long as they have that person’s permission.”

Once that call is made, the patient visits Horlitz. The paperwork takes 20-30 minutes.

“It has been great to partner with Mayo,” Morem said. “They legitimize the whole thing. People feel more comfortable writing a check to Mayo. They just put Pay It Forward on the memo line.”

The Pay It Forward program started after Morem’s mother, Jean Hardyman, died from breast cancer in 2001. Jean’s best friend, Marvel Magnuson, died exactly one year later, also from breast cancer. At that point, Morem talked with lifelong friend Laurie (Magnuson) Jonas, and they decided they wanted to do something in honor of their mothers. The Hardyman and Magnuson families, who had lived across from each other on Launa Avenue for many years, got together and created the Pay It Forward Red Wing program.

They initially gave money to organizations like the Susan G. Koman Fund, but then decided they wanted to make sure the money was used locally. They started an event called Party With A Cause. which is held at the Red Wing Elks Club each fall.

“We pack the Elks Club,” Morem said. “We do a silent auction. We have a raffle and drawing. Sometimes we have trouble giving the money away. People don’t think about us, or they don’t want to ask for help.”

More information about the program is available at payitforwardredwing.org. Anyone interested in requesting funds or donating to the program can contact Horlitz at 651-385-3302 or by email at horlitz.pamela@mayo.edu.

“The program started in 2007,” Horlitz said. “That year we helped two people. In some years, we have helped as many as 30 people. To date, we have helped 244 people.”