We had the good fortune of connecting with Maria Fundora and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Maria, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
To be honest, it was out of utter frustration that I started my own business. After the death of my mother to pancreatic cancer, I became determined that other families should not have to face the confusion, hopelessness, and devastation we had experienced.

My mother was an extraordinary woman, who had instilled in us the importance of selflessness, and it was with her in my heart and my mind that I started to fundraise to fight this horrific disease after her death.

When I started supporting and funding other non-profits, I was surprised to be told there were great limits to what we could achieve and became disheartened by the lack of any tangible signs of change or progress. So, I took matters into my own hands and founded Purple Pansies, with a view to ending pancreatic cancer.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We may just be a small group of volunteers, but we do not let that limit what we can achieve. This cause is personal to all of us, and we are proud to be able to have direct contact with those that we support and the research facilities that we fund. We have the ability to grant funds at a moment’s notice, since we don’t have the red tape of a large organization.

It all started off very simply, when I set up a fundraiser in my mother’s honor at our restaurant and raised $3,000 which I sent to a local foundation for pancreatic cancer. I then partnered with a larger organization, who I worked with for a year, but essentially outgrew them, as I wanted to achieve more than they believed we could.

I researched until I found the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), part of City of Hope, an Arizona-based non-profit medical research institute dedicated to conducting ground-breaking research. They were making an actual difference in the fight against cancer and had some specific strategies targeting pancreatic cancer. Here was the real action I wanted.

With our background in hospitality, we played to our strengths and held multiple events at our restaurant, channelling all the funds raised, directly to TGen. In 2017 we proudly became a 501c and set out to create more ways in which we could make a difference.

We strongly believe in connection and I am proud to have paved the way for partnership conversations between Piedmont Healthcare and TGen. This relationship will bring much needed specialized pancreatic cancer treatments and the latest clinical trials to those in need in our communities.

We are so excited by the new trial being worked on by Dr Daniel Von Hoff, who I am proud to now consider a personal friend. This year the funds we provide to TGen will enable the clinical trial for UPR (unfolded protein response) to commence, which can kill the cancer cells in 20 seconds!

As much as we work to support much needed research to fight this brutal disease, we also strongly believe in a personal, ‘hands on’ approach, to tackling immediate need. We provide emergency grants to those within the community who have exhausted their treatment funds and provide them with access to more affordable and much needed medications.

Every affected individual we connect with, takes me right back to the moment I found out my mother had pancreatic cancer. It was utterly overwhelming; there was so little information, so little treatment. I had never felt so alone. I know exactly how they feel, the journey they are about to embark on and the impact it has on the entire family unit. With this in mind, we have recently launched a scholarship program, to address the legacy that pancreatic cancer leaves. We are proud to have awarded 7 Purple Pansies scholarships this year, to children with a family member affected by pancreatic cancer.

We are blessed to have the support of our community and are humbled to be joined by a wealth of additional volunteers during our two key annual fundraising events. Our goal is always to raise awareness about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer because most individuals when they are diagnosed are at stage IV. Over the last two years we have partnered with Cambridge High School Baseball to have young people become more engaged in philanthropy as well as to help spread awareness. The team loves being involved, and this year actually designed their own Purple Pansies jerseys. They, along with other students, volunteer at our events. We are in the process of signing up more teams this year.

It is not always easy, be it my unexpected liver transplant, 3 weeks before our gala in 2019 or
Covid, which certainly threw us a curveball during our preparations for our key annual fundraiser in 2020. We had no choice but to adapt and four weeks prior to the planned gala, change it to an online virtual event. We were so humbled to have been able to raise $1.2M that year!

For me, Purple Pansies continuously keeps the memory of my mother alive, she is not forgotten, she is my north star, this is her legacy. We do not want anyone to suffer the way we had to, and we are determined and driven to make this a reality.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would probably start by taking them on a tour of the Beltline, planning stops at some of the galleries, parks and new small businesses that keep popping up. It’s a great way to see the city and how it is changing and developing. I would definitely need to see what was on at the Fox Theatre one night, recommend the aquarium, and the World of Coca-Cola tours which are surprisingly humble for such a huge brand.

We would escape one afternoon to the Chattahoochee River, one of the quieter spots, the water is so clear and the air so good, you can’t believe you are so close to such a thriving city.

When it comes to food, they would obviously need to be spoiled at our family restaurant
Casa Nuova but we would need to stop for hotdogs at the Varsity and the amazing Chinese food at Canton Cooks.

We would have to stop in for a beer with my friend the ‘BrewMaster’ Mitch, at the New Realm Brewery.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I dedicate this shoutout to my husband Antonio Fundora, who passed on October 22nd last year. Without his love and unrelenting encouragement, there is no way we could have achieved as much as we have.

Tony was bold, passionate, and brave. Whereas I have the tendency to be more cautious, he would approach everything in life with a fearless attitude, saying, “if we try and we lose, we will learn and just start again, let’s do it!”. In 1974 he founded our restaurant Alfredos, always caring for and fighting for people and the causes he believed in. Mostly thanks to him we have staff who have been with us for 25 years plus.

He was the brains behind all of the food for our fundraising events, which was so key to their success. He took great pride in providing a quality product and dining experience. Rather than just hosting an event for people to give us money, he saw it more in terms of creating an extended family and lasting friendships.

My passion and drive for Purple Pansies became his, and he was always helping us building items we needed for events, even creating a storage unit on our property and he was in the beginnings of building a Purple Pansies headquarters hut when he died.

Whatever was needed he always went right to the point, even speaking for us at our galas, ensuring everyone from the pot washers to the serving staff got recognition for their support.

Whereas my mother was my reason for starting my journey with Purple Pansies, I carry Tony’s love and encouragement with me and whenever daunted, it will be Tony’s fearless voice in my ear, pushing me onwards.

Website: https://purplepansies.org/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pplpansies/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/pplpansies

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pplpansies/

Image Credits
Andy Brophy, OneNine Images onenineimages.com

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