On December 27, 2007, Ana Guarino arrived at Megan Flynn’s house with a secret Santa gift for her friend Katie Spellman.
Everyone else exchanged presents, but at the end of the night, Ms. Guarino was left holding the gift she came with. Katie never showed.
The next day, Katie called Ms. Guarino to explain her absence. Katie delivered the news calmly, her friend recalled this week, but her demeanor couldn’t take the sting out of what she had to share: After more than two years of remission, the cancer that she battled in high school had returned.
“To this day, I still remember where I was standing and what I was wearing when she called with the news,” Ms. Guarino wrote in an email. “Although her voice was so calm, my heart sank into my stomach.”
Katie Spellman, a Hampton Bays native and 2006 graduate of Hampton Bays High School, died of leukemia on April 15, 2008, at the age of 19. She was originally diagnosed in 2003, when she was a sophomore.
This year, in memory of Katie, Ms. Guarino and Ms. Flynn are working to raise money to donate to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, an internationally recognized institute dedicated to the research and treatment of childhood cancers and other diseases.
The pair, who also hail from Hampton Bays and are Hampton Bays High School graduates, already have raised more than $5,000 in the first leg of their fundraising efforts by collecting contributions to their team, which will be participating in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Nashville in April.
After surpassing their goal of $5,000 in just a few days, Ms. Guarino and Ms. Flynn—the “Hampton Hustlers” as their team name denotes—decided to take things a step further.
On Thursday, December 26, the young women will host a special ladies night event, called “Charity On Tap,” at the Southampton Publick House on Bowden Square in Southampton Village. A $5 cover charge will be collected at the door and raffle tickets will be sold, with the proceeds going to St. Jude.
Ms. Flynn will bartend the event, which begins at 9:30 p.m., donating all her tips to the charity, and Ms. Guarino will share information about the Memphis-based hospital while raffling off gift cards and merchandise from local businesses.
Some merchants were hesitant to donate items at first, Ms. Guarino said, as they were skeptical about contributing to a charity with no direct local ties. However, many came around to the idea when told about the services that the hospital provides to families around the country—such as housing for those traveling more than 35 miles and a willingness to accept any patient regardless of a parent’s ability to pay for treatment.
“We reached out to 50 [businesses] and we heard back from 30, receiving gifts and gift cards to raffle off,” said Ms. Guarino, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina. “Everyone’s been really supportive and that’s what’s so great about a small community—when something happens everyone comes together.”
During her undergraduate years at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, Ms. Guarino, 23, worked with Community Health Charities of Florida, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that raises money for healthcare charities. St. Jude Children’s Hospital was one of more than 60 charities she worked with, she noted.
Ms. Flynn, 25, is now living in the Bronx and a third-year medical student at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. She now works at St. Barnabas Hospital in Manhattan and, ultimately, wants to specialize in pediatric medicine, so St. Jude’s mission is close to her heart as well.
“Overall, we wanted to do something to benefit other people beyond ourselves in a marathon,” Ms. Flynn said. “I just know from past experience that St. Jude is a really great charity.”