It started with three words that an 8-year-old boy asked one day after overhearing his mother’s phone conversation: “What is cancer?”
Taken aback, his mother – Gloria Starling, managing partner at The Capital Grille – realized she had not yet discussed the topic of cancer with her son. She had just gotten off the phone with Emily McLaughlin, a breast cancer survivor who was starting a fundraiser called BoobiQue. McLaughlin asked Starling for a donation, and Starling gladly obliged. Then shortly after hanging up, Gloria’s son Gabriel posed the question. After learning what cancer was, he quickly went to his room, found an old box full of change and handed it to his mother.
“Can you please give this to Emily?” he said. And Gloria did.
To this day, McLaughlin still has the box, so touched by it that she refuses to spend the money inside. But the act spurred on a much bigger effort to raise money for breast cancer research – one led by Gabriel himself, that would raise much more than a box full of change.
About $20,000 to be exact.
The initiative is called Tough Stars Give Back, and it started after Gabriel and his mother attended last year’s BoobieQue, an event in which businesses like Heim Barbecue and Rahr & Sons teamed up to raise money for Cancer Care Services and the National Breast Cancer Foundation. After the event, Gabriel wanted to do more. He decided that when his basketball season started, he would donate $5 for every basket he made. He also started a GoFundMe page so that others can donate as well. Some of Gloria’s friends also joined in, helping design a logo and open an account for the fundraiser, which Gabriel likes to call his “foundation.” By the end of basketball season, Gabriel’s “foundation” raised about $5,000.
Gabriel invited McLaughlin to attend his last game, where he would present her with the first unofficial check. She arrived with the box he first gave her, hoping to place the check along with the first batch of change he had raised. Instead, she was surprised with a 12-foot-long check that was much too big for the box. Gabriel also presented her with a pink basketball, with which he played during the game.
“He gets it, you know?” Gloria said. “It’s a hard conversation having to talk to him about cancer, but sooner than later, he was going to have to hear it. Cancer is real, cancer is happening, and cancer is here, so we need to be prepared for that.”
But Gabriel still isn’t done. Now 9 years old, Gabriel and his mother raised an additional $10,000 during an event at GRACE restaurant in May. They plan to continue raising money through October, when the next BoobieQue takes place. All funding is raised on McLaughlin’s behalf but ultimately goes toward Cancer Care Services.
And through it all, Gloria says she has “no words” to describe how proud she is of her son.
“He’s learning and growing up knowing that it is important to give back,” Gloria said. “He has a passion for it. All I can do is help.”
Gabriel’s reason for giving back? It’s simple.
“Because I want all kids to have moms,” he said.
To help Gabriel’s cause, visit gofundme.com/gabestar