Cocktails on the Cape

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2021 /

Writer: Kathleen McKenna

Cocktails on the Cape


Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2021 /

Writer: Kathleen McKenna

John Terrio of Dennis has worked a lot of auctions. About twelve hundred, he estimates. In the process, the professional auctioneer has helped raise hundreds of thousands dollars for a wide array of organizations.

But the fundraiser “Cocktails on the Cape” that took place late last summer at The Ocean House in Dennis Port–which was emceed by Terrio and helped launch a partnership between the nonprofit Family Reach and Cape Cod Healthcare–is especially close to his heart.

“It was so overwhelmingly great, and it really proved the importance of Family Reach,” Terrio says of the national organization the provides critical services to families facing cancer.

During the COVID pandemic, Terrio saw his onstage work dry up. He was asked to lead some online events, but for the most part his profession, like many others, was put on hold. He took that as an opportunity to join CEO Carla Tardif and the staff at Family Reach.

Photos provided by Family Reach.

“I’ve known Carla for 20 years,” he says. “She’s taken Family Reach from a mom-and-pop organization to a national nonprofit that assists so many families with the dark side of cancer.”

Simply put, the Family Reach mission is removing the financial barriers standing between cancer patients and their treatment.

Since its inception, Family Reach has provided financial advice, resource navigation, and emergency relief funds–from transportation to hospitals, childcare for siblings of patients, care packages for kids with cancer, and everything in-between–to families dealing with cancer and its many harrowing effects.

The “Cocktails on the Cape” event marked a reunion between Ocean House chef Tom Woods and celebrity chef Ming Tsai, the TV personality and cookbook author who owns the famed Boston restaurants Blue Ginger and The Blue Dragon.

Chef Ming also happens to be the Chairman of Family Reach’s National Advisory Board; for ten years he has worked tirelessly to advance the Family Reach mission. He even has the Family Reach logo emblazoned on all his chef’s coats.

Woods worked for Chef Ming early in his career, and their culinary reconnection lent a mouthwatering and celebratory flair to the evening.

Attendees enjoyed tuna sashimi, lobster dumplings, lamb lollipops, fried oysters with roasted peppers and prosciutto, corn fritters with salmon aioli, and of course, Chef Ming’s famed MingsBings, which are puffed pastries baked with eight different vegetables and served with a dim sum sauce. All the dishes were prepared in front of the crowd.

But the main event of “Cocktails on the Cape” was the live auction, led by Terrio, that aimed to raised $50,000 for Family Reach, and ended up raising about $170,000.

Terrio came up with the idea for the event because he realized that the Cape Cod community knew nothing of Family Reach and the services it makes available to families across the country who are dealing with cancer.

“Barnstable County has the largest rate of cancer patients in all of Massachusetts,” he says. “It’s all around us. Family Reach is so relevant and so needed here.”

Yet, as he told Tardif before he signed on to work for the organization, he’d never heard of it. “I said, ‘please, let me do something to bring Family Reach to Cape Cod,’” he says.

So he teamed with the Ocean House and Chef Ming, and made sure the most philanthropic people he knew were in attendance.

Items that generated the highest bids included four tickets to the September Patriots game starring Tom Brady (courtesy of Trish and Tom Kennedy of Zudy) and a gourmet dinner for ten served in the highest bidder’s home (courtesy of Ocean House Chef Tom Woods). Both benefactors doubled the prizes, and garnered twice the cash.

It was a magical night, Terrio recalled. But what was most magical was bringing the services Family Reach provides to the Cape’s healthcare providers and the people they serve.

“As a result of that night, our relationship with Cape Cod Healthcare is underway, and the oncology social workers here now have access to all the tools to introduce patients to Family Reach,” he says. “And that was the whole idea.”

Family Reach CEO Carla Tardif enthusiastically agrees. “That event was so fun and so important,” she says. “It introduced what we do to the Cape, it let people here understand the cancer landscape so we can mobilize to meet the needs of Cape Cod families.”

It was 14 years ago that Tardif’s friend Pat Kelly–a football hero at their alma mater Syracuse University who played for four years in the NFL–died of brain cancer.

When Tardif visited Kelly in the hospital near the end of his life, he told her of the families he’d met in the cancer unit who were coping with insurmountable difficulties. Rent bills, lack of health insurance, the impossibility of keeping a job while getting a child to his chemo treatment, the list went on.

“Fix it,” he told his friend. Tariff told him that she would, even though she didn’t know how.

Emcee John Terrio gets the crowd going with his inimitable style.

That deathbed promise led to Tardif connecting with Family Reach, then a grassroots volunteer organization started by two New Jersey families who had lost children to cancer. Tariff began working with them and eventually transformed Family Reach into a national organization that partners with hundreds of hospitals and cancer centers to deliver services to families devastated by the scourge of the disease.

“The founders had figured out how to fix a broken healthcare system,” Tardif said. “Cancer can be such a lonely place. There’s so much fear and shame attached. Suddenly you have all these out-of-pocket expenses and maybe no income. The stories we hear are the majority, not the minority.”

Tardif says she and her staff are always meeting parents who are overwhelmed by a diagnosis, with no idea how to cover the expenses that inevitably follow.

“Their bills are stacking up, there’s a repo guy in the driveway, there’s an eviction notice,” she says. “For so many families it gets to that point.”

Family Reach partners with more than 500 hospitals across the country and countless oncology social workers. They pair families with car services and hotels and financial advisors. They meet with families, Tardif says, figure out what they need, and make sure they get it.

The Kirchdorfers of Plymouth are one such family.

Mikey Kirchdorfer was five years old when he was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. Surgeons at Children’s Hospital in Boston removed a tumor; a week later it was back. Mikey’s chances of survival were estimated at ten percent, his doctors said.

“Up until then, everything was going great,” says Mikey’s father Stephen. “Nobody anticipates their child getting cancer.”

Mikey is the third of four siblings. When he got sick, his mother was working as a nurse for the VNA and his dad had left a career in sales to start a flooring business. The financial picture for the family was good, but cancer changed everything.

“Our heads were spinning, we had no clue what to do,” says Stephen, who was paying $2,000 a month for health care alone, and figured he would have to give up his fledgling business in order to cover the expenses incurred by Mikey’s illness.

“Without Family Reach, that’s probably what would have happened,” he says. “We were so devastated, and our only focus was to get Mikey through and be with him every step of the way. We couldn’t think about anyone else.”

Stephen’s wife Ida had to give up her job to care for Mikey full time while he was undergoing chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries.

“Logistically, there was no way she could keep working,” Stephen says, noting that his business took a hit as well. “We quickly went through all our savings.”

Then Family Reach stepped in to help. They connected Stephen and Ida with financial planners and provided myriad services to help Mikey get to the other side of cancer and treatment.

“Family Reach became an extension of our family,” Stephen says. “They went above and beyond. Most of the staff have been through an experience like ours, they say they feel your pain and they really do, they get it.”

Today Mikey is 13 years old and doing well. The family remains closely connected to staff at Family Reach.

“We couldn’t be more proud of Mikey and his unyielding strength and courage,” says Nicole Ackerman, senior manager of family relations for Family Reach.

Stephen says he continuously follows the journeys of children who benefit from the work of Family Reach through social media and the organization’s newsletter.

“The stories of what families go through are unbelievable,” he says. “We were fortunate compared with a lot of them. Even so, it was unbelievably difficult.”

It’s clear that the Family Reach mission is important to Mikey. Every year during the Christmas season, he and his dad collect toys and return to the ninth floor at Children’s Hospital to deliver them to sick children.

“That’s the kind of kid he is,” Stephen says. “Our family is doing great, my business is growing. Mikey came through it and he’s here with us. We’re blessed for sure.”

For more information, visit familyreach.org.

Kathleen McKenna is a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.

Kathleen McKenna