DELAVAN — Brenda Warrenburg has been paying it forward most of her life with acts of charity and compassion toward others.
Now, it is time for the 47-year-old Delavan civic leader to tap into that same goodwill.
Known for championing causes of children and the needy in Walworth County, Warrenburg is suddenly finding herself surrounded by champions for her cause as she wages a battle with cancer.
Friends and supporters are rallying around Warrenburg with a public benefit May 19 to help her cope with the trauma and expense of a recent diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.
Organizers of the benefit say they are harnessing an outpouring of community affection for Warrenburg, especially because of her years of activism and leadership in the Delavan area.
“She gives and gives,” supporter Chris Marsicano said. “And now it’s our turn to give to her.”
The benefit scheduled for 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 19 at the town’s community park will be presented as a Thanksgiving-style dinner, with turkey, dressing, yams and more. Donations of $15 per adult and $10 per child will be accepted.
The Thanksgiving theme is intended as recognition of Warrenburg’s role in the Thanksgiving community dinner held each November at the community park pavilion. Warrenburg directs a crew of volunteers in packing and delivering meals to senior citizens and others who are unable to attend the free dinner in person.
Last November, an estimated 450 meals were delivered throughout Walworth County as part of the holiday event.
For the May 19 benefit, no meals are being delivered. But many restaurants, sponsors and other supporters have stepped forward with contributions to create a Thanksgiving-style celebration, with all proceeds going to Warrenburg and her family.
“It’s nice to see a community come together,” organizer David Stirmel said.
The event also will include live music, a silent auction, and a 50/50 raffle.
Warrenburg, a mother of five who has lived in Delavan more than 20 years, said she is touched that so many people are willing to get involved in trying to help her family through a difficult time.
“There’s really no words to express how it makes me feel,” she said.
Of the unusual Thanksgiving-in-springtime concept, she said she appreciates the thoughtfulness that went into planning the event.
“I think it’s quirky; I think it’s fun,” she said. “I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement.”
In addition to her work with the Thanksgiving dinner deliveries, Warrenburg is leader of a cub scout troop, a past leader of a girl scout troop, an adviser to an adventure club for children, and a volunteer coordinator of the yearly Delavan Train Show.
She and her husband, Lester Warrenburg, have five children ages 9 to adult.
Warrenburg has worked for many years as general manager of the Comfort Suites hotel in Delavan, although her illness is forcing her to take a medical leave.
Ironically, it was during last November’s Thanksgiving community dinner that Warrenburg’s health took a turn for the worse. She powered through the event and all of the deliveries, but she felt sick and saw a doctor a few days later.
The pancreatic cancer diagnosis came a short time later.
Doctors have offered encouragement about her treatment options. She has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation treatments could start this summer.
The medical bills and her own loss of employment have combined to put a financial strain on the family.
Marsicano, who has been involved for years in the Thanksgiving community dinner, said he and others decided to organize a benefit to help Warrenburg, just as she has helped other people over the years.
“Because she does so much for others,” he said, “we want to do for her.”
As word got around about Warrenburg’s ordeal, sponsors have come forward to cover overhead costs with the benefit. Others have donated impressive prizes for the silent auction. And the musical group known as BCT has offered to perform during the event.
Stirmel, whose kids went through scouting together with Warrenburg’s children, said it is appropriate that people are taking time to offer Warrenburg a helping hand.
“She’s definitely a person who goes out and gives,” he said. “If you need something, ask — she’ll go out and get it for you.”
Warrenburg said she always has felt strongly about setting an example for her children by being a good citizen and participating in activities that help other people. Showing compassion for those in need, she said, is a way of acknowledging that we all could find misfortune in life.
“Sometime in my life, I will be those people,” she said. “And you don’t ask for anything you wouldn’t give.”