A Forest Park bar and a Brookfield church are set to become the latest venues for what has become an outpouring of support for a local victim of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who has touched the lives of many.
Blueberry Hill, 427 Desplaines Ave., Forest Park, will be hosting a cookout on Saturday, April 15 to benefit Brookfield resident Marty Woywod, who was diagnosed ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, three years ago and has since dedicated his life to heightening awareness of the debilitating disease.
"Marty's been a customer here for as long as I've worked there," said Chris Borroff, a bartender at Blueberry Hill and Woywod's brother-in-law. "This is just something we thought we could do locally as a chance to get involved and help."
Funds raised through minimum donations of $5 will mostly be invested in trust funds for Woywod's two children, ages 5 and six months.
For the past month, the bar has also been selling sets of five bar tags for $5, each bearing Lou Gehrig's number 4, upon which patrons can write their names or their wishes to Woywod and his family. Blueberry Hill owner Lynn Charise is hoping to have the bar's walls entirely covered by the time of the fundraiser. So far, about 1,500 tags have been sold, according to Borroff.
"We are blessed to be surrounded by so many people who have been touched by Marty," said his sister-in-law Steffanie Woywod, who is organizing a fundraiser of her own, called Marty Fest, at the St. Barbara Parish Community Center, 4015 Prairie Ave. in Brookfield on Saturday, April 22.
"It's very humbling," she said. "I haven't had to bang down any doors to get food donated or beverages donated."
Since being diagnosed with ALS, Woywod has become highly active in spreading awareness of the disease. Last year, he was named ALS Patient of the Year by The Lois Insolia ALS Center at Northwestern Hospital.
He has been particularly active with the hospital's Les Turner foundation, which works to raise awareness as well as funds for research of potential cures and treatments for the disease.
Each September at the ALS "Walk 4 Life" march in Chicago, his team, Marty's Marchers, is among the largest of the teams participating, turning out upwards of 100 marchers. According to Borroff, Marty's Marchers have raised about $60,000 so far.
Woywod also traveled to Washington D.C., last May for the annual Day on The Hill ALS advocacy day, and plans to make the trip again this year despite his declining health, according to Steffanie Woywod.
Woywod recently spoke about the disease to elementary school students at Longfellow Elementary School in Oak Park, which Marty once attended. One third grader at the school, Mackenzie Powell, has compiled a cookbook of family recipes that she is selling to raise funds for Woywod, a friend of her grandfather's.
"A lot of people don't know what ALS is all about," said Borroff. "The awareness thing is a big deal to him. He uses that word, awareness, all the time."
Though he is now mostly wheelchair-bound, Woywod, who worked for Oak Park based House of Heat, was once a 270-pound "monster of a man," according to Borroff.
"If someone had a problem he'd come over help them through it," Borroff said. "He's the guy with the pickup truck always going around trying to help people."
Former business acquaintances including plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen are now returning Woywod's many favors by helping renovate his home to make it wheelchair-accessible.
Still, Woywod, who plans to attend both the Blueberry Hill and St. Barbara fundraisers, has not allowed his condition to stop him from spreading the word about ALS.
"[After he was diagnosed], there was an adjustment period of I'd say maybe seven months," said Steffanie Woywod. "From that point on he's done nothing but devote his time to creating awareness."
More information about the April 22 fundraiser in Brookfield, which includes a buffet, refreshments, a live auction, raffles and other entertainment, is available at www.martyfest.com.