October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and drivers who cross the George Washington Bridge and Fort Lee residents with a view of the bridge can’t help but notice.
For the third year running, the necklace lights on the GWB are pink for the entire month thanks to the efforts of Chris Bonanno, an electrician with the Port Authority, whose sister has breast cancer and who took the initiative to start the program.
“He’s got all the other electricians involved in it,” said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman of Bonanno, who cut gels and ran tests at his home to make sure it was a safe thing to do. “They do this as part of the routine maintenance on the bridge so there’s no additional cost, and he donates some of the gels and the supplies on his own time.”
Bonanno, who wears a Port Authority-sanctioned pink hard hat throughout the month of October, said breast cancer “hits home” with a lot of people, and that the idea came to him when GWB electricians were changing the lights to LED to save power and “go green.”
“People were asking why are the lights out,” Bonanno said. “So I thought to myself, I want them to ask why the lights are pink. I had heard that at some of the other facilities they were doing something for breast cancer awareness; like at JFK, they’d light the towers in pink, so I asked if we could light the necklace pink for breast cancer awareness.”
He added, “They asked me to come up with an idea of how, and I came up with a studio film gel that I researched.”
Bonanno put in a lot of his own time to come up with a gel that would work, he said, but that putting them up was “a team effort” among the 10 electricians who work at the bridge, with three two-man teams going out on the cables at a time and the rest staying behind and making sure “things remain safe.”
“There’s 156 lights out on the necklace, and I talked to the guys in the shop; it seems like everybody knows somebody this horrible disease has impacted,” Bonanno said, emphasizing that installing the gels is done during routine maintenance. “It takes less than a minute to put the gels on.”
He said his goal is to let people know that “they’re not alone.”
“There are people out there that care,” Bonanno said.
Sy Weiss, 82, of Fort Lee, whose wife, Geri, 80, had a double mastectomy in 2005 and is now cancer free, met Bonanno in a Fort Lee coffee shop three years ago and shared their story.
“These are the men who climb the cables in all weather for our benefit,” said Weiss, whom Bonanno said he still bumps into from time-to-time before work. “Before October, this year, Chris sees me at Starbucks and has one of the special sheets of pink plastic to cover a bulb. He has with him a marker and asks me to write my wife’s name on it.”
Bonanno said he put up the gel with Geri Weiss’s name on it, along with others.
“I put it out there when we went out on the cables,” Bonanno said. “And at the end of the month, I’ll give it to him. This is the first year [of putting names on the gels]. I did like 46 names of people that work at the GWB or who know people going through this.”