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Pancakes with a Purpose: Pancakes for Parkinson’s celebrates their 20th Anniversary

Students and their families went to South Lawn to fundraise money for Parkinson’s research while eating pancakes during Family Weekend.

On South Lawn, attendees stood in line at griddles manned by student volunteers and eagerly awaited fresh pancakes at Pancakes for Parkinson’s annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser.
On South Lawn, attendees stood in line at griddles manned by student volunteers and eagerly awaited fresh pancakes at Pancakes for Parkinson’s annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser.

On South Lawn, attendees stood in line at griddles manned by student volunteers and eagerly awaited fresh pancakes at Pancakes for Parkinson’s annual pancake breakfast fundraiser. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, the grassy area was transformed into a vibrant space with a large white tent, complete with chairs and tables underneath. After obtaining their plain, blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes of choice, attendees could go inside the tent and top their pancakes with butter or maple syrup. 

While the event — and the pancakes — were free, attendees who chose to donate could do so by scanning Venmo QR codes or buying special 20th-anniversary t-shirts and other merchandise from volunteers. All proceeds went towards the Michael J. Fox Foundation, raising money to support research and clinical trials dedicated to finding a cure to Parkinson's, a degenerative neurological disease. 

Performances on a stage under the tent continued throughout the event, featuring various student bands and a cappella groups including Harmonious Hoos, New Dominions, Hoos in the Stairwell, Irish Exit, Split Decision and Yesterday’s Forecast. Chairs within the tent were set up so attendees could watch the performances while eating their pancakes. 

Christina Cucolo, the personnel coordinator of Pancakes for Parkinson’s and third-year Education student, explained the origins of the event.

“It was started a while back by a U.Va. student who really wanted to start a pancake-based fundraising group on Grounds, and this is our 20th year doing it,” Cucolo said. “It's been a great way to fundraise and raise awareness for the cause.” 

This year’s fundraising goal is $70,000. According to Cucolo, the organization had already raised $34,000 by Friday. The highest amount ever fundraised was in 2018 when they raised over $100,000. Since COVID-19, the numbers have slightly decreased, but their goal is to eventually exceed the amount from 2018. 

Part of this fundraising comes from fundraisers with local restaurants, such as Corner Juice, Chipotle and Trinity Irish Pub, or donations from local Charlottesville businesses and other individuals. A unique aspect of Pancakes for Parkinson's was the notable presence of a variety of local Charlottesville businesses that came to support the cause. One of the partners included Purvelo Cycle, a cycling studio located on West Main Street that sponsored a griddle that student volunteers were using to make and serve pancakes. 

Cucolo noted that it is also easy for University student organizations to get involved by helping to run the event or raising money. For example, the Honor Committee donated money to sponsor a griddle in addition to having Committee officers and members volunteer — including third-year College student Laura Howard who was excited to engage with the University and Charlottesville communities. 

“I would say it’s definitely worthwhile volunteering your time even though it seems like you have to get up pretty early on a Saturday morning,” Howard said. “It’s a great way to give back to your community.” 

Cate Bundon, marketing chair on the Pancakes for Parkinson’s executive board and third-year College student, explained the importance of annually hosting Pancakes for Parkinson’s on Family Weekend.   

“It’s a huge event in the local community and a lot of parents and families come, so it’s just really great to see everyone and get everyone involved,” Bundon said. “It's one of my favorite events all year and it's a great way to be educated about the disease as well.” 

For Cucolo, this event holds a particularly special place in her heart because of her grandfather, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease while she was in middle school. 

“He and I were incredibly close… he was my best friend,” Cucolo said. “It’s heartbreaking seeing these incredibly strong people lose their ability to do something as simple as give a hug to a loved one.” 

Cucolo joined Pancakes for Parkinson’s during the first semester of her first year, determined to make a difference and spread the word about the pancake fundraiser.  

“It’s important for me to raise funds for families who are going through this … as well as help [my grandfather’s] legacy live on and give back to everything he’s done for our family, [to] recognize and honor him each year.” 

According to Bundon, even though the pancake breakfast fundraiser is their biggest event of the fall semester, students still can get in contact with the executive board to be included in their communications about other pop up events throughout the academic year and support the ongoing mission of Pancakes for Parkinson’s.