Pancakes for Parkinson’s takes over Gregory Plaza


Gabriella Belzer

Mathematics professor Dr. James Vick was one of the inspirations behind “Pancakes for Parkinson’s” when he was diagnosed with degenerative muscular disease. 

Stuart Railey

The wafting aroma of pancakes will guide students and faculty through a gauntlet of spatulas, griddles and pancake mix Wednesday in the Gregory Gym Plaza. Pancakes for Parkinson’s, an annual fundraising event put on by the Texas Round Table, will donate all of its proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which researches cures and treatments for Parkinson’s disease. 

The Texas Round Table, a group of current and former presidents from 14 campus spirit organizations, first introduced the event on campus in 2011 in honor of James Vick, a UT mathematics professor who was diagnosed with the degenerative muscular disease. Pancakes for Parkinson’s represents a collective school effort to procure donations and raise awareness. 

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that manifests itself in painful motor dysfunction in its later stages. Because the disease is so difficult to identify early in its progression, victims often remain undiagnosed until a severe decrease in muscular coordination occurs. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, a leading research organization that studies the pathology of Parkinson’s, claims that nearly 1 million people in the United States currently live with the disease.

Over the last three years, Texas Round Table has succeeded in raising $140,000, according to Katie Koehler, the committee’s treasurer. The organization aims to collect at least $20,000 this year by selling more than 4,000 pancakes.

“From the initial event in 2011, we have pledged that 100 percent of the money raised will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation to further its goals in finding a cure for Parkinson’s and generating awareness about the disease,” Koehler said in an email.

Supplies for the event, including pancake mix, griddles and syrup, are contributed by a number of local businesses and organizations including H-E-B and the Division of Housing and Food Service. Because all of these supplies will be returned or recycled, Pancakes for Parkinson’s is a low-cost, green event.     

In previous years, Texas Round Table volunteers relied heavily on Batter Blaster, a pressurized can filled with pancake mix. Dominic Ferrario, a Texas Round Table co-committee chair, explained that Batter Blaster is similar in style to Cheez Wiz, allowing student chefs to cook hundreds of pancakes in a short period of time. But the Batter Blaster company has since gone out of business.

This time around, student volunteers will be improvising with the help of H-E-B, which offered to pick up the program’s batter costs. Instead of Batter Blaster, chefs will use a combination of empty ketchup bottles and Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

“We have never run out of pancakes yet, but doing so would not necessarily be a bad thing,” Ferrario said. “I hope that people, through pancakes, realize how powerful student organizations can be when they work collectively for a common cause.”

Popularity and support for the program, which Ferarrio said he hopes will become more of a tradition, has grown tremendously over the last few years.

“There aren’t many events like this that bring so many different student groups on campus together,” Ferrario said. “From all of those supporting organizations we are able to gather literally hundreds of volunteers who help with everything from mixing pancake batter to collecting donations from supporters.”

Along with his wife and daughter, Vick has been involved in the event since it first began. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, he has been profoundly inspired by the excitement and dedication that underlies events like Pancakes for Parkinson’s on campus.

“I always appreciate student efforts that go beyond the classroom that serve the community and bring people together for a good cause,” Vick said. “I believe that the work the students have done in the past has been quite successful and it’s been fun to have my family involved.”

Printed on Thursday, April 25, 2013 as Students sell pancakes to fund Parkinson's disease research