Stick a Fork in Cancer

MANKATO — Jonathan Zierdt’s cancer journey ended with his death earlier this year, but his mission to support cancer patients lives on through the fundraiser he helped establish.

Stick a Fork in Cancer’s third annual benefit Thursday supports his namesake foundation, the Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund, as well as the YMCA LiveStrong program and the American Cancer Society. Portions of sales at 27 area restaurants that day will be split between the three nonprofits.

Mankato Family YMCA Executive Director John Kind said this year’s Stick a Fork in Cancer, the first since Zierdt’s death in March, takes on a special significance as the organizations carry on his work.

“We all remember Jonathan, and it’s significant because we continue to do it even without Jonathan being here and being part of it,” he said. “It really is part of Jonathan’s legacy.”

Zierdt, who helmed Greater Mankato Growth, had a steady presence at previous Stick a Fork in Cancer events. A cardboard cutout of a smiling Zierdt greeted customers at restaurants, while the man himself made the rounds to thank patrons.

Rick Jeddelow, senior community development director with the American Cancer Society, remembers the enthusiasm Zierdt brought not just to the event, itself, but even to the planning meetings. While Zierdt became the face of the event those first two years, he insisted the event should go on in his absence.

“I’m sure he’d appreciate the fact we’re still doing it,” Jeddeloh said. “He said it more than once: ‘We need to keep doing this whether I’m here or not here.’”

Although they partner at times, the three organizations each provide distinct resources for cancer patients and their caregivers. One-third of the donations help the Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund provide care boxes for the region’s newly diagnosed cancer patients. Tami Paulsen, the fund’s director, said the nonprofit has now distributed more than 1,000 caring boxes to patients.

“Everyone mourns his loss, but I want people to know and we want people to know that the Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund is still going strong,” she said.

YMCA’s LiveStrong program uses its portion of donations to connect cancer survivors to personal trainers. Through a fitness regimen, the trainers help the survivors regain their strength post treatment among other wellness goals.

The American Cancer Society’s resources, meanwhile, range from free stays at the nonprofit’s Hope Lodge in Rochester and Minneapolis to free hotel rooms for patients receiving care in Mankato. Jeddeloh said the nonprofit provided 1,350 services to cancer patients in the Greater Mankato area in 2018.

The fundraiser has brought in more than $60,000 split between the three organizations over the last two years. Paulsen and Kind said raising another $30,000 would constitute a success this year, while Jeddeloh said he’s hoping this year’s donations put the total amount raised during the last three years over $100,000.

For a list of participating restaurants, go to www.mankatoymca.org/stick-a-fork-in-cancer.

Follow Brian Arola

@BrianArola.