ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Megan Bennett saw a need in the law-enforcement community for times when a sworn officer’s family is going through a catastrophic illness, serious injury or death.
The daughter of a retired police officer herself, the St. Charles Township resident started Blue For Life Inc. in 2011 and serves as its executive director. The charity makes financial donations to any sworn Illinois police officer’s family in crisis.
“There are no charities that will step in and help if someone else in the family is going through an illness,” said Bennett, 39. “If they are taking care of a sick child or spouse, they are not always getting paid.”
A stay-at-home single mom with four children – 13-year-old twin boy and girl, an 8-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy – Bennett said she works on the charity from home while her children are in school.
The first family to receive a Blue For Life donation was the family of Bloomington police officer Jeremy Cunningham, a few days after his daughter, Alexa, then 15 months old, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
“We took my daughter to the hospital in Peoria for an MRI,” his wife, Sara Cunningham, said. “We expected to go home the same day, but as soon as [we] left the parking garage, the doctor called and said, ‘You need to come back and admit your daughter.’ ”
Cunningham said she spent the next 10 days in the hospital with Alexa, while her husband used up his sick days and drove back and forth. Though their medical expenses were covered, all the other incidental costs were not.
But within a few days of Alexa’s diagnosis, financial support came from Blue For Life – and it just blew them away.
“It definitely helped,” Cunningham said. “I had not heard of Blue For Life. Then all of a sudden, I saw they made a donation to us. We don’t know these people. They don’t know us. ... I still do not know how they heard about us.”
Alexa, now 2, has no evidence of a tumor at this time, Cunningham said.
Cunningham and Bennett met for the first time at a recent fundraiser for the charity. She said Bennett stayed in touch about Alexa’s condition.
“Megan is so passionate about this charity, and she wants to help so many people,” Cunningham said. “She calls Alexa their ‘Blue For Life Baby.’ That was really special to me, as well. ... They are like our family now.”
Bennett said she would not say the amount given to specific families, but $1,000 is the most that is donated.
Others that have received donations include a police officer’s family whose 12-year-old daughter died of heart problems, a DuPage County Sheriff’s Deputy’s wife with brain cancer and the family of a Wauconda police officer who was in hospice and died a couple of days later, Bennett said.
More recently, the charity made a financial gift to a state trooper’s family whose 3-year-old child accidentally drowned at a family party, Bennett said.
Bennett has some first-hand experience with a sickness in the family when her uncle, a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy, died of cancer in 2006. Bennett said he worked through chemotherapy and then was given a desk job until he went into hospice care in his home.
“As I was growing up, I was cognizant that if something happened to my dad – I do not know what my mother would have done, financially,” Bennett said.
“Police work is such a hard job. It’s so stressful that financial concerns over health of a loved one can be too much,” Bennett said. “No amount of money can make anybody feel better after losing a child, but if we can help alleviate a financial burden, they can focus more on being a family.”
Bennett said the organization’s bylaws state 80 percent of all donations go to law-enforcement families, and 20 percent cover their expenses.
Eleven lodges of Fraternal Orders of Police and patrol officers’ associations are Blue for Life’s founding sponsors, according to its website, www.blueforlife.org. Bennett said the lodges put up the money for the charity application and start-up fees while she learned how to start and run a nonprofit organization.
“We are getting name recognition, slowly but surely,” Bennett said. “My goal is to be national. We’re doing baby steps make to sure we’re doing everything correctly. We want to become a known charity in Illinois first.”