The McDaniel family motto, “Helping those in need since 2002” is something they follow to every year in ways that are fun, inspiring, and kind.
Mark McDaniel and his family throw the backyard extravaganza called Pondapalooza, an outdoor music fest held in their Schererville backyard. With 10 bands coming, about 400 invited guests, and enough food and drinks to last the night, the backyard bash happening this Saturday evening, is an event for the entire community.
Pondapalooza is held each year to help raise money for those in the community struggling with cancer, or other health issues. It has been going on for the last six years, each year getting bigger and better.
“It is a grassroots, homegrown event, a block backyard event,” McDaniel explained. “It is a cool experience. You walkup with lawn chairs, sit down, and enjoy the day.”
It all started in 1992, when McDaniel was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Years of treatments at Methodist Hospitals followed, and in 2002 he was declared cancer free.
“In 2002, I started giving back to the community and trying to make a difference,” he said.
It started back then as a game of HORSE basketball with six friends in McDaniel’s driveway. They group raised money to buy toys and gift cards to deliver to the children in the pediatric ward of Methodist Hospitals. Then, it kept growing to include 50 players, then 150 guests, then the entire block joined the cause.
The McDaniel family moved to a house which happened to have a pond in the backyard, thus the community was invited to the Pondapalooza party, overlooking the water.
Over the years, there have been nearly 50 musical acts by individuals and bands who have performed. Being a huge concert-going family, the McDaniels enjoy having a mix of tunes, instruments, and genres in their backyard.
“I have been a DJ for 30 years and have been to 150 concerts in my lifetime. My children love music as well and they have been to 25 concerts in their short lifetime,” he said. “Music has always been a part of our family. It is our recreation. Some people go camping, we go to concerts!”
This year, there will be 10 bands and performers including: Dan Kocel and Terence Smith, Angelriot, Pandora Rocks and other great singers!
The proceeds from the ticket sales go straight to Methodist Hospitals, the Hospice of Calumet Area, and individuals who need a leg up.
“Last year we gave money to eight individuals to help offset costs. We just wanted them to have a good day and not worry about what they are living with,” he said.
These individuals could be complete strangers, it does not matter, McDaniel said.
The McDaniels also donate to the Hospice of Calumet Area because they have had family members and friends receive amazing care and respect while at the center.
“They are just incredible, that is how it really started. We just love what they do,” he said.
On June 27th, McDaniel was interviewed on the WJOB AM 1230 radio show with his family, Damian Rico and Jenifer Vargo-Okamura of the Hospice of Calumet Area about the event’s mission. Sharing his own story on the show, he talked about how his experiences led him to the desire to help others.
This year, five people will give their testimonies about their battle with cancer or other health problems, which is so moving and inspirational, he said.
“When you see their smile on their face and when they are meeting people who had helped them out, it makes you feel something in a way you have never felt before, a feeling you cannot describe,” he said.
This event is not for an organization, or non-profit. It is just a family-held function putting on a good event for their community.
The locals reciprocate by donating to the event, as well as local businesses help out through sponsoring. The longest running sponsors for Pondapalooza includes the Chicago Bulls, Nick’s Liquors, and Calumet Breweries, in addition to about 30 more!
The day is crazy fun and a great way to help and give back to the community, showing others how easy it is to do so.
“I hope it helps others find that spark to do a random act of kindness for someone else,” he said. “Imagine this world with kindness every day. If just one person, every day did one act a day… All the little things truly make a difference.”