The Blue Ridge Healthcare Foundation celebrated the coming of winter by raising money to meet health needs in the community.

The foundation held its annual gala Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Foothills Higher Education Center in Morganton. The theme of the gala was “A Winter’s Eve.” The event featured silent and live auctions, a wine pull, an acrobatic performer, a photo booth, dinner, dancing and reports on foundation projects.

The purpose of the event was to raise funds to provide assistance to patients of Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge and to fund initiatives to improve the health of the community.

Traci Riebel, executive director of the foundation, told the crowd that the event had more guests this year than any other year.

“Many of our patients face social and financial challenges, which place a burden on their access to care and maintaining their best health,” Riebel said. “We not only want to help our patients receive the best care and experience, but we want them to transition home to an environment to assist with continued healing.”

She thanked Kerri McFalls, fund development specialist with the foundation, and Taylor Parsons, office coordinator, for their help with the gala, as well as Mary Katherine Mull, gala chair. Mull thanked the committee members and volunteers who worked hard to make the gala a success, as well as the event’s donors and sponsors.

“Morganton has such a great community of people who care about giving back,” Mull said.

While dinner was served, the foundation presented a slideshow highlighting its impact in the community, thanks to support from donors. One slide said the foundation raised $750,642 from 22,000 donations from 1,436 donors during the past year.

The money raised was used to pay for things such as a special eye-screening machine for diabetic patients, an interpreting system for a medical practice, a high-fall-risk clinic for seniors, blood-pressure-monitoring kits for stroke patients, programs for dementia residents at Grace Ridge, and lung screenings, medication, transportation and medical equipment assistance to patients in need, including CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines.

A CPAP machine is used to treat sleep apnea, in which a person temporarily stops breathing while asleep. Repeated interruptions in breathing night after night can lead to serious health problems.

After dinner, local resident Mike Russ shared how the foundation helped him by purchasing a CPAP machine for him. He said he had suffered from difficulty sleeping and extreme exhaustion. His fiancee recorded him while he was sleeping one night going 35 seconds without breathing. During a sleep study, doctors discovered that during 441 minutes of recorded sleep, he stopped breathing 559 times.

“The first night I took the CPAP machine home, I slept like a baby,” Russ said. “After I learned I needed the machine, my next step was wondering how I was going to pay for it. (The average cost of a CPAP can range from $250 to $850.) That’s where the foundation stepped in and helped me out. When I found out I was getting help, I cried. It’s been a life-changing matter. I come in to work happy now. I’m not short-fused like I was. These people didn’t know me, but their willingness to help me was truly a blessing.”

Riebel also shared how the foundation followed through on its community health initiative by donating funds for a food truck for Burke County Public Schools to deliver lunch during the summer months to students who don’t have access to transportation or healthy food options.

In a video presentation, Larry Putnam, superintendent of Burke County Public Schools, said the school system has approximately 7,000 students on free or reduced price lunches.

“In this past summer’s feeding program, we fed about 600 students a day,” Putnam said. “Our plan is to send this food truck to high-poverty neighborhoods during the summer months to serve students who are not food stable and do not have transportation to our summer feeding programs at Valdese and Mountain View Elementary Schools. This will allow us to provide nutritious meals to the remaining 6,400 students who would otherwise go without.”

He said the food truck also will be used by students interested in culinary training to help them gain cooking experience.

The program concluded with remarks from Kathy Bailey, president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge.

“The Blue Ridge Healthcare Foundation and Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge consider it a privilege to serve the patients and the people in our community,” Bailey said. “So many (people) have difficult needs that prevent them from achieving optimal health. We can make a difference by providing some of these resources. Our hope is that you will join us in providing some of these resources for those in need. Tonight, you can make a difference and offer hope, health and healing.”

Tammie Gercken can be reached at

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