Noe Valley Voice April 1999

Breast Cancer Stamp a Big Seller in Noe Valley

By Suzanne Herel

The breast cancer stamp, which funds medical research, costs 7 cents more than a regular 33-cent stamp. But that hasn't stopped local residents from snapping them up at the Noe Valley Post Office.

In February, the 24th Street branch sold more of the stamps -- 12,404 -- than any other post office in San Francisco, raising about $900 to help fight the disease.

Noe Valley has also helped make the Bay Area a top competitor in the race for a cure around the country. The San Francisco postal district -- stretching from Eureka to Sunnyvale--is second only to Sacramento in cumulative nationwide sales since the stamp's debut in July 1998.

"This wasn't through huge sales. This was through one-, two-, and three-sheet sales," said Yvonne, a window clerk at the 24th Street branch who preferred not to give her last name.

Noe Valley's February sales ranking is up from January, when it placed fourth in the San Francisco district. In December it ranked third.

Yvonne credits the neighborhood's "generosity of spirit" with keeping the Noe Valley branch in the city's top five sellers on a monthly basis. "You can't push a breast cancer stamp," she said. "People ask for them."

Yvonne was so pleased one day recently when two separate male customers in their 20s requested the stamp that she asked the second buyer why he chose them. "He said, 'Because I have a mother and sisters.' That's all," she recalled.

Another man had told her he supported the stamp because his ex-wife, wife, and mother all suffered from the disease. "People with cancer in their family are quick to buy," she said.

"It's been a very popular stamp in California, particularly Northern California," said Horace Hinshaw, a spokesman for the San Francisco Post Office. "Cancer affects a lot of people's lives. People are hearing the message."

It's not unusual for the U.S. Postal Service to issue stamps to raise awareness of health and social issues such as drug abuse, AIDS, and wildlife protection. But this stamp -- referred to as "semipostal" in government lingo -- is the first to sell for higher than the postage, so that the excess can be donated to a worthy cause.

The stamps cost 40 cents each. The extra 7 cents (8 cents before the recent rate increase) goes directly to breast cancer research. Seventy percent of the proceeds are donated to the National Institutes of Health, and 30 percent to programs under the Department of Defense (DOD).

DOD's Breast Cancer Research Program, launched in 1992, funds hundreds of medical research grants. The program is designed to supplement the work of the National Cancer Institute by focusing on new treatment approaches and the needs of patients who are deemed underserved.

So far, more than 67 million stamps have been sold nationwide, raising $5.3 million for breast cancer research. Nearly 13 million of those sales have come from California. Ranked first, second, and third as of March 5 were Sacramento (2.8 million stamps), San Francisco (2.7 million), and Oakland (1.8 million).

After Noe Valley, the next highest sellers in the San Francisco district in February were Sutter Street, which sold 10,694 stamps; San Rafael, 7,427; the Irving Retail Store, 7,280; and Mill Valley, 6,615. The district as a whole sold 293,303.

After third-ranked Oakland, the highest-selling cities nationwide are Seattle (1.74 million); New York City (1.73 million); Washington, D.C. (1.72 million); Denver (1.56); Atlanta (1.5 million); San Diego (1.44 million); and Van Nuys, California (1.42 million).

Yvonne said some customers had told her they preferred donating money directly to organizations. "They don't think of the stamp as a symbol, which it is," she said. Still, many find the stamp a more convenient way to contribute.

The stamp features a line drawing of a woman swept with blue, green, red, and orange, and the slogan "Fund the fight. Find a cure." It was designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland -- herself a breast cancer survivor -- and illustrated by Whitney Sherman of Baltimore.

The breast cancer stamp will be on sale through July 2000.