From a Spare Bedroom to a Powerhouse T1D Community
On March 8, 1978, the JDRF Greater Bay Area Chapter opened its door to the type 1 diabetes (T1D) community. That door was to a spare bedroom at the San Francisco home of Pamela and Stephen Mittel. Pamela’s sister Susan Bloom and her husband Jonathan Bloom were two doors down the street, and living with T1D. Jonathan was diagnosed with the disease in 1974 at the age of 29, and their son Matthew was diagnosed in 1976 at the age of four. (Years later, Matthew’s daughter Amanda would also be diagnosed with T1D). The Blooms and the Mittels saw this as a family disease and were determined to make a difference.
At the time, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF), as it was called then, had been gaining strength since 1970, founded in Philadelphia by two moms of children with T1D. Those pioneering moms, Carol Lurie and Lee Ducat, came to San Francisco in late 1977 to ask the Blooms and the Mittels to start a San Francisco chapter. They discovered that their goals were aligned, to raise money and find a cure for T1D, and so the family agreed to do whatever it took to make it happen in the Bay Area. Pamela and Susan’s father Robert B. Hirsch passed away on March 8, 1978, and it was on that date that they decided to start fundraising in his honor. They asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to JDF in his memory. They opened up a bank account and collected $3,000.
“I painted the JDF logo on the wall, which made it feel official!” says Susan. “Jon went to West Portal to get an answering machine at RadioShack. He ran into an acquaintance, Jack Hansen, a local TV weatherman. Jon told Jack what we were doing. It turned out that Jack had a son with type 1. So Jack went into the store with Jon and insisted on buying the answering machine. So with our first piece of office equipment began the Greater Bay Area Chapter.” With the help of their friend, Judy Camp, who also lived with the disease, they did it all. They served as administrators, officers and fundraisers. They had become the first chapter west of the Mississippi.
Back then, living with T1D was a very different challenge. We didn’t have insulin pumps or continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). In those days, the latest innovations were urine tests to check blood sugar and only syringes to administer insulin. There was a lot of guess work involved in one’s care. Funding research was vital to improve lives and find a cure for T1D.
The chapter’s first fundraising event was a movie premier for “A Wedding” at the Vogue Theater in the fall of 1978. Actress, philanthropist and JDRF supporter Dina Merrill, who had a part in the movie, was their connection. So, with little to no experience in event planning, the family jokes that their biggest logistical challenge was learning what a klieg light was and how to get them to the theater. They also recall needing to find someone to make a large sugarless wedding cake. They were thrilled to have celebrity attendance: Dina and her husband Cliff Robertson, and Lillian Gish. The event raised an additional $3,000.
“To think that we’ve come this far, with all the research that’s been funded due to the incredible energy of people involved over the last 40 years, is amazing and heartwarming.” – Chapter founding members Susan Bloom, Jonathan Bloom, and Pam Mittel
We’ve come a long way since opening that first spare bedroom door. The physical address of the chapter has moved several times, most recently to 135 Main Street. Our signature events now include our annual Tee to Table, Hope Gala, and Summer Classic, four JDRF One Walks around the Bay Area, and numerous Outreach events that bring our community closer together. In FY17, with the help of our committed and generous supporters, our chapter raised more than $8 million. The research progress we have helped to advance over the last 40 years includes successful developments in CGMs, beta cell replacement therapies, glucose control, and most recently the first Artificial Pancreas System – the Medronic MiniMed 670G – hitting the market. Jonathan is a recipient of this new technology and says that it’s the best treatment he has ever had for his T1D. Check out our Path to a Cure: An Interactive Timeline and explore how over the past several decades, JDRF has been changing the future for people impacted by T1D. JDRF is now the global leader in funding T1D research, and our Bay Area community has contributed greatly to this position.
The JDRF Greater Bay Area Chapter is extremely grateful to the Blooms, the Mittels, Judy Camp, and all of the other dedicated volunteers who helped create a strong and passionate chapter in our community. We are honored that so many have joined our mission and our family over the last 40 years.