First comes the sound.
A cacophony of sirens piece the suburban streets.
Those in earshot at first think there is an emergency nearby, but one look outside and it is obvious that this is not an ordinary call. Local fire trucks give way to those painted pink with writing all over them. This is a visit from the Joliet Chapter of Pink Heals, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting women and others who are suffering.
“We’re really a grassroots organization,” Matt Fleck, co-founder of the Joliet area chapter said. “We want to help the person, not the cause.”
The Pink Heals motto is "Supporting Women, not causes” and it is at the heart of everything they do. Support, though, is not limited to women. When the tour stopped in Joliet on Sunday, they made a number of home visits, including one to a firefighter on medical leave and one to the widow of a Joliet police officer.
The crew of the Troy Fire Protection District joined Pink Heals Sunday afternoon, before the tour pulled into the Joliet Memorial Stadium, to honor Derek Hogg, a Shorewood native and resident who is on medical leave from the Kankakee Fire Department after being diagnosed with ALS. He began his fire career at Troy Fire Protection District.
“I had no idea,” Hoggs said of knowing ahead of time of the visit. “I thought the fire department was responding to an EMS call in my neighborhood.”
The group presented Hoggs with a check for $2,500 and invited him to sign one of the Pink Heals vehicles.
“Can I sign the windshield?” he joked.
The Joliet-area chapter of Pink Heals began in 2013 when husband-and-wife team Matt and Sandra Fleck of Joliet wanted to do something to make a difference. The Pink Heals organization appealed to them because the outreach is comprised entirely of volunteers, so 100 percent of what they collect goes back to the communities they serve. Each chapter has their own vehicles that are named in honor of someone who has impacted that chapter. Locally, the first vehicle for the Joliet-area chapter was named Addison, in honor of Addison Locke, a 7-year-old, Troy Community Consolidated School District 30c student who lost her battle with cancer in 2013. On Sunday, the Joliet-area chapter dedicated its second vehicle, a police cruiser that they named Tina, in honor of Tina Mayle. This is the first chapter in Illinois to dedicate a police cruiser.
Sunday saw another first for the Joliet-area chapter. When the group of vehicles and walkers did the annual walk around the neighborhood, Matt Fleck told participants they would be stopping at a house visit on the way. They visited Joliet resident Sandy Gerrettie, widow of Joe Gerrettie, who was a Joliet police officer. Sandy Gerrettie also is battling cancer. The vehicles stopped and as happens on any home visit, everyone gave Sandy Gerrettie a hug, but everyone included all the people in attendance at the event at Joliet Memorial Stadium who went on the walk.
This year the Joliet tour raised money with the sale of T-shirts. The shirts were $10 for children’s sizes and $20 for adults. Survivors wore pink shirts, no matter whether they were men, women or a child and those in support wore gray.
The Flecks were encouraged back in 2012, before their chapter was even formed, when a visit from Pink Heals brought out 1,000 people. Matt Fleck said he thinks the foundation helps in an area where others might not be able to reach.
“We kind of believe you can cure things by lifting people’s spirits,” he said.