When UniSource employee Jeremy Sandall was dying of cancer, the Shadows Foundation was there for his family’s basic needs – food, gas vouchers, money for copays, and just company.
In the decade since he died, his family regularly volunteers for the foundation, including at Candy Cane Lane, a drive-through holiday display in Flagstaff earlier this month.
“I’m always ready to help with the Shadows Foundation,” said Roni Sandall, Jeremy’s widow and a UniSource Training and Compliance Coordinator in Flagstaff. She recruits her UniSource colleagues to volunteer for the group, and their service has inspired regular financial support from the company. “I’m always going to keep that relationship,” she said.
In his early 30s, Jeremy Sandall, a Service Technician, was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, Jeremy’s and Roni’s daughter was 2 years old and Roni’s two other children – who considered Jeremy their dad – were teenagers.
Despite a supportive workplace and “great benefits,” Roni said the situation was overwhelming. They had to take leave when needed and commuted to a Phoenix hospital as the disease progressed, all while Roni was trying to keep up with her children’s cheer competitions and caring for their toddler.
“We were struggling and we had a young family. We were trying to keep things as normal as possible,” Sandall said.
Vicki Burton, the Shadows Foundation founder, stepped in to help.
Burton had only recently started the foundation when she met the Sandall family through the oncology unit of the Flagstaff hospital. Affected by her own family members’ cancer struggles, Burton realized that there were gaps in support for basic needs for families facing critical illnesses, so she decided to do something about it by starting the foundation.
The Sandalls were the third family that she approached. “I just remember her being there with a huge smile. She was very friendly, very welcoming,” Sandall said.
Before long, the Shadows Foundation helped pay for propane and a woodburning stove for the Sandall’s home. The group also provided money and vouchers for prescriptions, food and gas for travel, and direct emotional support. “We became attached where Jeremy wasn’t just a patient,” Burton said. “Roni and the kids became a part of my life.”
When Jeremy died at age 32 after a 22-month battle, Burton stayed close and helped them through the grief. “I was dealing with my own broken heart, a confused toddler and angry teenagers,” Roni said.
Since then, Roni and her daughter, Jackie-Rae, now 13, continue to speak at the foundation’s fundraisers and help at concerts and other events, where Jeremy’s picture and story are prominently displayed.
At one point, Burton quit her job at the Arizona Daily Sun and cashed out her 401k so she could take on the foundation’s duties. The foundation has since grown to cover other services, including heart screenings for first responders and Better Bucks, a program providing vouchers that can be given to panhandlers for use at local stores.
On Dec. 3, the Shadows Foundation put on its third annual Candy Cane Lane event – a drive-through light-up exhibit. While the event began as a holiday alternative during the pandemic, it was so popular that the Shadows Foundation continued and expanded it.
UniSource served as a sponsor and provided a vehicle to decorate as one of the light-up displays along the route.
With Sandall’s involvement, UniSource has regularly donated to the foundation. The contributions are aligned with our company’s focus on community assistance and our commitment to support our employee volunteers. Most recently, Shadows Foundation received a matching grant from the CoBank Sharing Success Program in partnership with UniSource.
“UniSource has helped me so I can expand these programs,” Burton said. “We wouldn’t be where we are at today if it wasn’t for UniSource and their annual donations.”