by Lindsay Purcell

When Al Smith and Tim Brown, two friends who had both been diagnosed with cancer, started the Darien-based charity Hackers for Hope to raise money for cancer research in the mid-1980s, they targeted their male friends with a golfing event.

Now, 30 years after Its founding, Hackers for Hope is launching a new event aimed at women: Shopping for Hope, a luncheon focused on raising awareness of common cancers in women that will be held on Wednesdaay, May 9 at Woodway Country Club in Darien.  The event will feature a shopping boutique with around 25 vendors, as well as two speakers, Dr. Elizabeth Jewell, an ovarian cancer surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and Shelley Smith, an ESPN anchor who is a cancer survivor.

“It seemed like a wonderful way to have another event which wouldn’t necessarily be targeting our golf audience, and have a really fun day on top of it,” Nan Smith, Al’s wife and a founding board member of Hackers, said of the new luncheon.

At the first Hackers event in 1988, four men competed in a golf marathon, followed by a low-key barbeque.  Each golfer asked their friends to pledge a dollar amount per hole. “It wasn’t even a tournament, it was like a race,” Nan Smith recalled.  “One woman pledged $10 per hole, and they ended up playing 100 holes.”

Over time, the event evolved into a large-scale tournament with over 100 golfers (including a few female foursomes), followed by a gala dinner dance.  To date, Hackers has raised $16 million for cancer research, with beneficiaries including Sloan-Kettering and Stamford Hospital’s Bennett Cancer Center, among other organizations carefully vetted by its board.

This year, with the addition of the luncheon, Hackers is not only targeting women, but also specifically raising money for gynecological cancer research, including ovarian cancer.  “It goes hand in hand with a luncheon,” Nan Smith said. “Your audience is going to be concerned and aware.”

Particularly aware of the impact of gynecological cancers is longtime Hackers co-director Susan Graham, whose mother was diagnosed with stage three uterine cancer a few years ago.  Graham met luncheon speaker Dr. Jewell when she successful operated on Graham’s mother at Sloan-Kettering. Dr. Jewell, who is developing a new way to detect ovarian cancer tissue in women, will describe her ongoing research in her speech at the event.  

While Hackers will still hold its annual golf tournament this year in October, Nan Smith hopes that the luncheon will expand its mission to a new generation.  “It’s pretty remarkable that 30 years have gone by,” she said. “I hope we will increase the awareness of Hackers to an audience that may not have known of it before. “  

Tickets for the event are available online at  Prices are $100 for the luncheon and shopping, or $35 for shopping only.  In addition to proceeds from ticket sales, all vendors are donating 15% of their proceeds to Hackers for Hope.