(L to R): Elizabeth Randall, Kristy Bridgers, Kate Green, Annie Robertson, Elizabeth Heiskell, Carlyle Thomas and Lee Lee Desler. Committee members not pictured: Katherine Beard, Sage Nichols, Richard Cross and Michael Thompson.

When comedian Danny Thomas struggled to find purpose in his life, he prayed to the patron saint of lost causes, St. Jude Thaddeus. In exchange for guidance, he promised he would build a shrine to St. Jude. The result was not a place of worship, but rather a place of groundbreaking research based in Memphis, Tennessee.

Since its founding in 1962, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from a dire 20% to 80% today. Families of St. Jude patients never receive a bill for their child’s care, nor for the lodging, travel or food costs incurred during treatment.

Oxford will host the 11th annual St. Jude Taste of Oxford benefit Thursday, February 22 at The Jefferson.

Oxford resident Carlyle Graves had served on the St. Jude Taste of Oxford committee for about a year when her son was born a severe hemophiliac type A. “When my husband and I received that news, it was by far the worst day of my life,” she shared. “We had no idea what was in front of us. As a parent, not understanding what is in front of your child for his life or your family takes your breath away and knocks you to your knees.”

“However, for us, St. Jude is the place that takes care of not only cancer patients but also blood disorders. The doctors, nurses, and all the staff were supportive, helpful, and truly unbelievable during that time. They have been and will continue to be with us on our path.”

We spoke with Liz Randall, event chair for the 11th annual St. Jude Taste of Oxford benefit, to understand what the event means for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and for our own community.

How did you become involved with St. Jude, and why?

St. Jude got on my radar the first time about 15 years ago when a colleague’s child was being treated there for a form of childhood cancer. I was so impressed at the organization on all fronts; first and foremost, successfully treating his child, but also supporting and caring for their family, providing everything the child needs while being treated—from school, housing, travel, meals, and of course, all aspects of the medical treatment—at no cost to the patient’s family.

The more I learned about St. Jude, the more impressed I became. It also has a huge research component and shares knowledge and research on catastrophic childhood illness around the world, so their successful efforts are exponentially felt.

What is the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital?

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.

Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude is working to drive the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90 percent, and we won’t stop until no child dies from cancer.

St. Jude freely shares the discoveries it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

Give us a little history of the St. Jude Taste of Oxford fundraiser.

This event started very, very small eleven years ago and has grown to a top 40 event in the country for St. Jude from a revenue standpoint, which is a very powerful testament to the generosity of our community. We are by far the smallest city on the list from a population standpoint, but our community’s philanthropic support of this event is enormous, and we are both proud and thankful for that.

The 11th annual St. Jude Taste of Oxford will feature culinary specialties by renowned chefs from the greater Oxford area, live and silent auctions, as well as dancing and live entertainment.

What is the goal of this year’s St. Jude Taste of Oxford event?

Our goal this year is to raise $300,000, which is amazing coming from a small community in a poor state. Our committee continues to be inspired by the amazing support we see from the community and by seeing St. Jude at work treating children here in Oxford—it becomes very tangible when you know a child who is going through treatment and you see the great work St. Jude is doing in the lives of people you know and love.

How do you see St. Jude’s work affecting those here in Oxford, Mississippi?

One of our committee members has a child that recently became and continues to be a patient at St. Jude, along with several other children in the Oxford community. These tangible instances make St. Jude’s great work very evident, and it keeps everyone inspired to contribute.

Please share the details of the upcoming fundraising event. How can Oxonians donate or get involved?

The event is February 22 at The Jefferson. The sponsor cocktail party begins at 6:00 p.m., and general admission is at 7:00 p.m.

People and businesses can get involved by becoming a sponsor, buying a ticket, donating an auction item or simply making a donation. We have very little expense associated with this even because nearly every element is donated therefore, which makes our profit margin extremely high.

Please visit www.stjude.org/tasteofstjude to purchase tickets or sponsorship, or call Laura Carpenter at 901-578-2085 to learn more.