Soup hits the spot as MS fundraiser

Birnamwood event raises about $9,000

PHOTO BY MIRIAM NELSON Amanda Sullivan and Steve Szews, of Birnamwood, have multiple sclerosis. They participated in the MS Soup Cook Off, a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, at the Matsche Center in Birnamwood on Sunday.

Birnamwood resident Steve Szews was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago.

“It’s a shock when you first find out you have it,” said Szews, 56.

His form of MS is relapsing-remitting, which means the disease takes turns being active, when symptoms can worsen, and then going into remission, when symptoms can improve.

About four years ago, Szews decided he wanted to do something to raise money for all those suffering with MS. The Szews family participates in the MS Walk in Wausau each May, but they had other family and friends who wanted to do more.

The Szewses decided to do a fundraiser in winter, when not much else is going on. Soup sounded like a fabulous way to keep warm.

“We joined forces with another family, the Sullivans, whom we’ve known for many years and are also affected by this disease,” said Katie Szews, event coordinator and Steve’s daughter-in-law.

About 200 people attended the 2018 MS Soup Cook Off at the Matsche Center in Birnamwood on Sunday. They helped raise about $9,000. A small portion of the money will go back into the expenses for next year’s event; the rest goes to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Amanda (Bauch) Sullivan has MS, and she and her family help coordinate the event, which also included a bake sale. Businesses and individuals donated prizes for raffles.

People can try as many of the 25-plus soups as they want and cast votes for their favorites. Soups this year included chicken Alfredo tortellini, split pea with ham, venison chili and potato bacon chowder.

Everyone gets to vote for the best soup.

“You get bragging rights and an apron if your soup is chosen, so clearly they do it for the fun of it,” Szews said.

The hope is for others diagnosed to see how the Szews and Sullivan families manage the disease and how well they are doing, and perhaps be an inspiration to others who are suffering.

Just as there are many different symptoms of MS, a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of the nerves, there are also various treatment options.

When first diagnosed, Steve Szews participated in a support group. He quit because it was depressing to hear everyone speak only about their problems. He hopes support groups by now will have adopted a more positive approach.

Szews explained it’s important to be in a good mood and to think positively. It helps to be surrounded by family and friends.

His optimism extends to his willingness to explore new drug and treatment options.

“Let me have it,” he said. “I’ll be your guinea pig.”

Birnamwood area resident Andy Resch attended the fundraiser for more than the soup.

“I’m proud to be a part of such a great community that is so willing to help,” he said.