The Lufkin community came together to celebrate life and raise funds for cancer patients in need as the East Texas Cancer Alliance of Hope held its first Believe in Hope Black Tie Gala at the Pitser Garrison Civic Center Saturday evening.

The turnout alone demonstrated the worthiness of the cause, as tables at the event were sold out for more than a week prior to the event. An expected 350 people were in attendance, with all proceeds raised going toward any tangible needs cancer patients may have.

The gala included a live band, an elegant cake auction, a raffle, a silent auction and sponsorship times. Guests bid on a wide variety of items, including designer purses, a kid’s cooking class for 12 and a concealed carry handgun course. Tomé Catering served a hearty dinner of stuffed ribeye, roasted veggies and creamy mashed potatoes for guests to enjoy.

Ashley Berry, founder and CEO of The East Texas Cancer Alliance of Hope, is a cancer survivor herself. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, and will be celebrating five years of remission today. Berry recalls the time when she was undergoing treatment as being one of not only physical hardship, but financial as well.

“If it were not for my community, friends and family, then financially I wouldn’t have been able to maintain. I lost my job, I wasn’t able to work. … I was a single parent. ... My family and my church family all surrounded me at that time and provided the tangible resources that I needed, and so that’s what I want to do here.”

This is the first year for The East Texas Cancer Alliance of Hope to operate. Since December, they have funded around $15,000 toward helping cancer patients pay for car notes, rent, medications, medical equipment and even gas vouchers for patients to go back and forth to MD Anderson in Houston for treatment.

Berry said she hopes to expand to serve all of Deep East Texas in the near future in her effort to take the financial stress out of an already tough situation.

Dena Stokes’ email address is dena.stokes@lufkindailynews.com.