The Presque Isle Rotary Club and the University of Maine at Presque Isle have declared their 2nd annual World Polio Day and Purple Pinkie Project events, held on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 23 and 24, a major success. The University and Rotary Club joined forces to present the activities, which raised awareness throughout the region about Rotary International’s efforts to eradicate polio worldwide. In addition, this year’s Purple Pinkie Project raised an estimated $1,800 to go toward that global effort.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the outpouring of community support that we saw during our two-day celebration of World Polio Day,” Presque Isle Rotary Club President Ralph McPherson said. “We had an excellent turnout for our community kick-off on Oct. 23 and we estimate that well over 1,000 people participated in our Purple Pinkie Project. The wonderful thing about both of these events is that they’ve helped us to significantly increase local awareness about Rotary’s worldwide fight to end polio and raise enough funding to ensure that thousands of children receive polio immunizations.”
World Polio Day activities began with a special community kick-off on Oct. 23 that included presentations by Rotarians talking about polio eradication efforts and one local couple sharing their personal experience with polio. Rotarians explained that since Rotary International began the fight against polio in 1985, the crippling disease has been reduced by more than 99 percent—from more than 350,000 people, mostly children, in 125 countries, to less than 300 cases last year. Attention is focused on three countries—Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan—which are still polio-endemic. By partnering with the World Health Organization and other government and private groups, Rotary International is working harder than ever to end polio: experts say that if the job isn’t finished, the disease could rebound to 10 million cases in the next 40 years.
That’s a future that local residents Rodney and Barbara Leach fervently hope the world never sees. The couple has a very personal connection with disease—Barbara Leach is a polio survivor. Rodney Leach explained to the gathering some of the experiences his wife has gone through because of polio, from the many surgeries she underwent after contracting polio as a baby to the necessity of getting custom-made shoes. However, he explained that he wasn’t sharing their story so people felt sorry for them; on the contrary, he said, they’ve had a very full and productive life together. Instead, he said, they wanted to be a part of the event to emphasize how important Rotary’s fight to end polio is and how much they support it.
Community members had a chance to do the very same thing the following day, during the region’s Purple Pinkie Project. Volunteers were on hand in a dozen locations throughout the community on Oct. 24, staffing Purple Pinkie Project tables. For $1, volunteers colored people’s pinkies purple. The dollars helped to raise money for Rotary International’s End Polio Now efforts and each purple pinkie served as a symbol of one child’s life saved from polio.
Similar Purple Pinkie projects have been held by Rotary Clubs around the country, with people donating $1 to have their pinkies marked with the same purple dye used when Rotary International conducts polio immunizations. The estimated cost to immunize one child from polio is $1, and when each child gets immunized, Rotarians mark their pinkies with a topical purple dye to prevent double dosages.
Participating Purple Pinkie sites in Aroostook County included UMPI, UMPI’s Houlton Higher Education Center, TAMC, TAMC’s North Street Healthcare, Northern Maine Community College, MMG Insurance, the Aroostook Centre Mall, Graves Shop ‘N Save, Bradley’s Citgo, Maine Public Service Company, Star City Coffee and Presque Isle High School.
“We were very excited to start off the day with a great turnout at Presque Isle High School,” Rachel Rice, World Polio Day co-chair, said. “Volunteers said when they explained to students how every dollar we raise for polio eradication leverages two more dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, many of them reached into their pockets and donated more so even more lives could be saved from polio. To them, and to our sponsors, supporters, and to everyone else who helped to make our World Polio Day activities a success, we’d like to say that we are incredibly grateful to you for helping us to get just a little bit closer to ending polio.”
This year’s World Polio Day and Purple Pinkie Project, which grew significantly from last year’s event, was sponsored by TAMC, NMCC, MMG Insurance, and University Credit Union, and supported by the Aroostook Centre Mall, Graves Shop ‘N Save, Bradley’s Citgo, Maine Public Service Company, and Star City Coffee. To learn more about the event, please visit www.umpi.edu/worldpolioday.