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Tampa Bay Komen affiliate fears backlash will hurt local fundraising

TAMPA — When Susan G. Komen for the Cure decided to cut future grants to Planned Parenthood, its Tampa Bay-area affiliate was swept into a controversy that still could cripple its fundraising despite Komen's reversal.

Some Komen supporters had a bad aftertaste from the episode, including Tampa's Rebecca Schrader. She plans to withhold donations to Komen for a year to make sure the organization continues to fund breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood.

"I want to see if this is a genuine change of heart," she said, "or if it's just temporary."

Gina Kravitz, director of the Suncoast Komen affiliate, has been hearing that kind of talk, and she is worried. So on Thursday, she embarked on damage control, speaking out for the first time to distance her group from the national furor.

Though Komen's $680,000 annual grant was for breast cancer screening, Planned Parenthood long has been targeted by conservatives because it performs abortions. So many saw the cutoff as politically motivated, particularly when it turned out that a key figure at Komen had campaigned against Planned Parenthood.

"We, locally, would not have made that decision," Kravitz said of the funding cutoff. "We are completely apolitical at the Suncoast affiliate, and we are here to serve anyone who needs us."

She stressed that about 75 percent of all local donations stay in the Tampa Bay area. And almost all of that — more than $1 million a year — goes toward breast cancer screenings for low-income women.

The local Komen group doesn't fund Planned Parenthood clinics (they never applied for a grant, Kravitz said). Instead, it sends its money to county health departments and hospitals.

Last year, Suncoast Komen-funded screenings served nearly 4,000 women, she said.

If donors hold back, "that means there will be people going without services," she said — particularly women under 50, who are left out of a federal grant aimed at older women.

That worries breast cancer survivor Carmel McDonald, 44, of Largo.

McDonald will mark 11 years cancer-free in June. She relies on annual mammograms to make sure the cancer has not returned, knowing that women who have had it once are at greater risk.

She says she doesn't have health insurance and gets government assistance because she must care for her 19-year-old autistic son.

"Mammograms are expensive," she said.

Without Komen, she doesn't know how she'd get them.

As soon as the news about Komen cutting the funding broke, the uproar was swift and loud. Komen leadership quickly denied political intent, saying Planned Parenthood was disqualified from future grants because it was under a congressional investigation launched by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Ocala. Stearns wants to know if the group is illegally using federal health funds for abortions, a charge it denies.

Karen Handel, a Komen vice president who called for defunding Planned Parenthood during her unsuccessful run for governor of Georgia, was a major player in the cutoff. She resigned from Komen this week over its decision to reinstate the grants.

Kravitz, of the Suncoast affiliate, declined to share her opinion of what has happened at Komen nationally. Instead, she focused on shoring up local support in time for the group's major fundraisers, including October's 14th annual Race for the Cure in St. Petersburg.

"People need to be responsible about how they're making their donations and how that money is spent," Kravitz said. "Hopefully, people will realize we are making an impact in our community."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa Bay Komen affiliate fears backlash will hurt local fundraising 02/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 9, 2012 9:57pm]
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