They began streaming in at least an hour before the stroll started. Most were wearing pink shirts.
There were men and women, senior citizens and children.
They all came out for a cause.
The eighth annual Sister Stroll at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills on the evening of Sept. 26 was a tribute to those who have lost their lives, or are battling against breast cancer. Many in the crowd had lost a sister or a mother or a friend to cancer. Some had faced the disease and survived.
“This is a very special event,” Don Welch, chief operating officer of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, told the crowd. “It’s a very special event for me because my mom passed away from breast cancer.”
Mary Walters was in the crowd listening to Welch speak. She came to the stroll with her sister, Kathleen Coelho.
“This is an event I try to support every year for all of the women who have breast cancer, and friends who have had breast cancer,” said Walters, who lives in Dade City.
Coelho, who also lives in Dade City, volunteers at the Simpson Breast Health Center at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. Her personal experiences at the breast health center persuaded her to get involved.
“I was being treated there and I liked the people,” Coelho said. “They recently opened a gift shop, and I think it’s nice that people don’t have to travel long distances to get what they need.”
A huge contingent of Southport Springs residents turned out for the event.
“We are big fundraisers for the Simpson Breast Health Center,” Carla Evans said.
Southport Springs supports the center because it believes it is a good cause, said Barbara Debus, another resident there.
“We know where the money is going,” she said.
Southport Springs has raised so much money for the center it has a mammogram and a bone density room in the center named in the community’s honor.
This year, Southport Springs donated a quilt one of its residents made that will be hung in one of their rooms at the breast center.
The community also donated $3,070 for the breast center — raised from a dance, a bra parade, a pet parade, chance drawings on baskets and other events.
Those attending Sister Stroll, which was on the hospital grounds, had a chance to sign up to become members of the Pink Army, a statewide initiative developed by Florida Hospital to encourage the early detection and prevention of breast cancer.
The campaign enlists new members as Pink Army soldiers. They can rise through the ranks and earn rewards by recruiting other soldiers, attending educational events, scheduling a mammogram or completing other missions.
Dawn Seqiueira, also of Southport Springs, said she is a major in the Pink Army. She’s recruited 41 soldiers. It’s hard to find new recruits there, she said, because so many people already belong.
“We have a lot of (breast cancer) survivors in our community,” she said.
Sister Stroll began as a grassroots event to give the community a chance to learn more about preventing breast cancer, to show their support for people fighting breast cancer, and to remember those who have been lost, said Michelle Oswald-Bianchet, director of marketing for Florida Hospital Zephyrhills.
Carolyn Sentelik, executive director of the Florida Hospital Zephyrhills Foundation, said the event gives people a chance to show their support in the battle against breast cancer. It also gives the foundation a chance to thank the community for supporting its efforts.
“This community is overwhelmingly generous when it comes to breast cancer. It’s a chance for us to say thank you,” Sentelik said.