After her own battle with Stage 1 melanoma, Mantua native Mary Beth Konieck started the Sunscreen Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide sunscreen for local law enforcement and spread awareness of the deadly skin cancer.
She started small by donating sunscreen to the Pitman police department where her brother worked. Konieck’s organization also has three other board members.
Konieck was diagnosed in 2017 after a mass was found on her shoulder. The cancer was caught early, and she had the mass removed the following year. But she shortly noticed one day that her brother, a traffic officer, was covered in sunburn.
“I asked him why he allowed himself to get so burned,” Konieck recalled. “And he said he simply didn’t have any sunscreen with him. If you think about it, police officers are equipped with many tools to keep them safe, but the one thing they often forget to protect is their skin.
“So, the combination of my recent history with melanoma – coupled with my brother’s sunburn – got me thinking about how I could help.”
Konieck added another police department each year after that, with 500 sunscreens delivered in 2022. The organization also provides kits that include informational material about skin cancer from the American Cancer Society and sunscreen chapstick.
“I’m finding that when I meet with officers and or the police chiefs, the story is the same,” Konieck added. “They share personal stories about how melanoma or another form of skin cancer has touched their life or the lives of friends and family. “
The sunscreen Koenick’s organization provides is bought in bulk online and delivered to police departments throughout the county in May, which happens to be Melanoma Awareness Month.
Recipients have included departments in Harrison Township, East Greenwich, Mantua, Glassboro, Westville, Elk Township, Logan Township, Deptford, Washington Township, West Deptford and Woodbury.
“Last year was the first year I created an Amazon Wish List that anyone could buy from,” Koniecki explained. “This year, now that I am a registered 501c3, I’m hoping to get more monetary donations so I can purchase the sunscreen tax free. I will also be accepting sunscreen donations as it gets closer to May.”
Konieck also wants her organization to go wider.
“My hope is that the Sunscreen Project will expand outside of Gloucester County, and even one day, beyond New Jersey,” she noted. “I hope that one day, police departments will consider adding a line in their budgets for sunscreen. I’d also like to one day offer things more than just sunscreen – maybe UPF clothing.
“I will most definitely offer to other first responders in the future,” Konieck added. “I’d even like to offer sunscreen to public works and schools for their grounds crews. The Sunscreen Project has big dreams for the future, but we really love what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.”
To donate or get involved with the nonprofit, visit The Sunscreen Project’s website and its social media pages.