Juan Candelaria receiving the fundraising money. Photo by Robert Eliason
Juan Candelaria receiving the fundraising money. Photo by Robert Eliason

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The community came together on Nov. 11 for the La Chancla Benefit Corn Hole Tournament at the San Juan Bautista VFW Hall. Organized by members of the fraternal organization E Clampus Vitus, AKA “Clampers,” the gathering raised $6,244 for San Juan resident Juan Candelaria who is facing substantial medical expenses in his fight against liver cancer.

“One of the Clamper mottos is whenever we see someone who needs help, we all stand up and do the best that we can to get him to where he needs to be,” said co-organizer Larry Norcross. 

The tournament was planned after members discovered that Candelaria was out of work and facing major surgery. 

He was diagnosed with liver cancer after a blood test revealed abnormalities. After tracking his symptoms for a few months, his doctors performed a biopsy which confirmed his condition. Since then, he has been undergoing radiation treatment in advance of surgery.

“I have been approved for a transplant from a live donor,” Calendria said. “They would give me a piece of their liver which would grow to be fully functional, and theirs would regenerate as well. I’m waiting on live donor approvals, which would mean a successful transplant this spring.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, 75% of liver transplant patients are still living five years after surgery and some live up to 20 years or more. 

“When we realized how serious this condition was, we were overwhelmed,” said Clamper John Hopper. “The more we learned, the more we realized that he would need some help with the challenges that he’s facing. We’ve had a couple of small fundraisers before for other beneficiaries, but this would be our first major effort.”

Candelaria said that the hardest part of his journey following his diagnosis has been dealing with his emotional and mental health.

“I am having some fear and apprehension, to be honest with you,” he said. “For a long time, I kept it a secret, and I was going at it alone. But having this wonderful community here to help me has been amazing. It is an absolute blessing.”

After receiving his new liver, Candelaria will have to take medication to counter the rejection of the new organ at a cost of $7,000 a month for the rest of his life.

“There are charities that could be a workaround and can help us out with that,” he said. “We’re exploring that, but to have this kind of support from my family, my brothers and sisters, and my community is humbling to have.”

The theme of the tournament was inspired by a photograph that appeared on the poster for the event. 

“If you look at the poster,” Norcross said, “you’re gonna see Juan holding a chancla that he was getting ready to throw at somebody that was giving a bartender a bad time. That’s what he does when he’s pissed—the first thing is, he pulls off his chancla.”

  • Raffle prizes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Juan Candelaria said that the hardest part of his journey following his diagnosis has been dealing with his emotional and mental health. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Larry Norcross with corn hole tournament prizes. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • La Chancla Cornhole Tournament. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • La Chancla Cornhole Tournament. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The benefit also featured a chile verde lunch, raffle prizes, including a 50-inch television and a Blackstone grill, donated by local businesses and individuals, a 50/50 raffle, and a performance by The Dead Cowboys.

Grillin & Chillin Alehouse owner Chuck Frowein described the Clampers as either a history organization that likes drinking or a drinking organization that likes history. He donated a bucket with “a little bit of rum, a little bit of vodka, some beers, and some glasses” to the benefit.

“Juan’s a brother, and the Clampers always try to take care of each other,” Frowein said. “He’s a really great person, and we want to do whatever we can to raise some money and make it easier for him.”

Candelaria received the money raised by La Chancla at Daisy’s Saloon on Nov. 12, as friends and family gathered around him. He said that it took him overnight just to process his feelings about the benefit.  

“I had to gather my thoughts,” he said, “The financial support is one thing, but the outpouring of love and care that I received was healing and beautiful. It is something that is going to carry me through the difficult times.

Along with the $6,244 raised at the tournament, an ongoing “Fundraiser for Juan Candelaria” GoFundMe campaign has raised almost $16,000, and Norcross said that there may be more Clamper-sponsored charity drives for Candelaria in the future.

“We’ll see how this one goes,” he said, “and if it fares well for Juan, then we’ll probably do something else for him, probably in the spring.”

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