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The Ellie Fund was founded in memory of my mother, Eleanor “Ellie” Popkin, who passed away in 1987 at the age of 49 after a courageous 15+ year battle with breast cancer. The Ellie Fund is a continuation of the charitable spirit my mom embodied during her life, and provides a way for us to give back to other families who are going through the same challenges that we did.
Ellie grew up in Boston and graduated from Boston University. She married Irving Popkin in 1964 and raised me and my brother. In addition to her role as family caregiver, Ellie was an active member of her community, serving as a Boy Scout den mother, volunteering at Boston Children’s Hospital, and working as a beloved JCC preschool teacher and librarian. Family, education, and giving back to the community meant everything to her.
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My mom’s story is all too common even today: she found a lump on her breast during a self-exam and, out of fear, she waited a long time to get it checked. When she finally saw a doctor he confirmed that it was breast cancer. She had several surgeries, countless rounds of chemotherapy, and a never-ending will to survive. Thinking back, her positive outlook and drive to never give up is a strength that was passed on to both me and my brother, and it is one of our family’s greatest assets.
With her aggressive treatment schedule, I vividly remember my mom being easily fatigued with simple tasks that we all take for granted: laundry, preparing meals, and house cleaning – these became daunting chores. As young children we became the caregivers trying to take care of our mom, our caregiver.
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ellie with sons
When Ellie lost her battle with breast cancer in 1987 the support and love my family received from friends, family members, and complete strangers is unforgettable. My dad did his best to provide some sense of normalcy for me and my brother, but he could not do it alone. To this day I reflect on how thankful I am for the assistance we received from people both during and after my mom’s illness. People brought us food, cleaned our house and provided companionship.

These angels played the role in my family’s life that the Ellie Fund does today for so many families: providing compassionate care and acting as the friend or extended family member that everyone needs when going through breast cancer treatments. The emotional and physical burden that breast cancer has on a family can be devastating. Every little bit that others can contribute helps to ease that impact and allow the family to focus on healing


Many things have changed from the time my Mom was sick in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including the treatment and understanding of breast cancer. What has not changed is the need for services to relieve the financial and emotional burden on the patient and their family. We are forever grateful for the funds that are being raised for research and to provide hope for a cure. But we also recognize the need to support and provide assistance to the patients and families who are battling breast cancer every day. A long-term illness can easily wipe out a family’s entire savings to pay medical bills. That is why the Ellie Fund is not based on financial need. And the need to give back is still as strong and important as ever. The Ellie Fund today acts as a friend and support system to hundreds of women, men and families that my mom so desperately needed. And the services that the Ellie Fund provides today are the same ones my mom and my family needed.

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My brother Eliot and I initially raised money in my mother’s name through the Boston Marathon. After some great success we created the “Eleanor Popkin Scholarship Fund” (later to become known as The Ellie Fund) in 1993. Friends and family met as a “board” to discuss how to raise and distribute money.

We started formally fundraising and hosting events in 1995. Our early events were geared toward young professionals, and the attendance was overwhelming. The marketing manager at General Cinema was one of our first board members and he started one of our biggest annual events. Originally known as Oscar Night America, this event is now our Red Carpet Gala. This same event has helped to forge a long-lasting relationship with WCVB Channel 5 in support of our cause, which has more recently spawned another flagship event, 5 for Ellie.


In 1996 my brother and I were invited to a donor event at Dana-Farber. I remember joking with my brother as to how out of place we felt with these donors who were giving millions of dollars to fund research. It was an amazing experience and one that helped shaped the direction of the Ellie Fund. Hearing the unbelievable contribution acknowledgements, we realized something that brought clarity to our story: because our mom was such a giving person during her life, we knew that we wanted to do something through the Ellie Fund to give back to others. We felt honored to be at the event and to know that so much funding was going towards breast cancer research. But we also realized at that moment that we could do so much more to help people who were living with breast cancer. The seed was planted, and the direction of the Ellie Fund began to evolve. Our mission was established: to provide free of charge services to women and their families going through treatment.


In 2003 the Ellie Fund hired its first full time executive director. We initiated large-scale strategic partnerships with companies like Panera Bread and Dana-Farber Hospital.


It is remarkable to see how many of our founding principles are still thriving today. We are still raising money through running events (Boston Marathon, Falmouth Road Race), just as we did when we initially started fundraising in the 1980’s. And I think back to the Dana-Farber fundraiser that gave two young men the idea to give back and help people living with the disease. I am proud to say that we are now hosting the same types of upscale fundraising events that we then could only dream about.

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Today, I live with my wife Heidi and our three daughters. My oldest is Ellie, and she has some very big shoes to fill. I know “Grandma Ellie” is looking down and smiling at what we have created in her memory. The Ellie Fund honors my mother’s legacy and spirit of giving back to others through a hard working staff, committed board, tireless volunteers, and generous service providers. There are so many amazing people invested in making sure that no one family or person fights the breast cancer battle alone. Thank you all for your support and help in continuing my mom’s legacy. Best regards from my family to yours, Jeff & Heidi Popkin and Family