Mother of Cancer Survivor Creates "Comfort Kits" to Help Parents Get Through the First Hospital Stay
Sarah Strang is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree, and one of the winners of the 2016 Make A Difference Day Awards. Each year, TEGNA recognizes 14 outstanding leaders of Make A Difference Day projects, awarding $140,000 in grants that are donated to the charities related to the winning projects. Learn more about Make A Difference Day and register a 2017 project at www.makeadifferenceday.com.
Sarah Strang is a mom who knows that a child’s battle with cancer is filled with emergency trips to care centers. Seattle Children’s Hospital is three hours away from her home in Wenatchee, Washington – a long trip she made countless times while her son Anthony, who has Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, was battling leukemia. Often, there was no time to pack a bag. After comparing her experiences with another mom, Sarah Hastings, the two women launched Gold-n-Plum in 2011 with a mission to create pre-assembled “comfort kits” to donate to local ERs. The kits are given to parents who had no time to pack a bag as they rushed to get in an ambulance or Seattle Life Flight, to help get them through their first hospital stay.
On Make A Difference Day, Sarah collected enough items to make 80 kits for Confluence Health Central Washington Hospital and Clinics in Wenatchee. With items donated by local businesses, hotels, doctors, orthodontists and local Wenatchee residents, each kit includes: a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss, a comb, a razor, lotion, tissues, hand sanitizer, shampoo and conditioner, socks, two dryer sheets, a pen and pad of paper, gum, small chocolates, a crossword/puzzle book, $4 in $1 bills for vending machines, and a note about why the kit is there.
Sarah was awarded a $10,000 grant for her Gold-n-Plum comfort kits project on Make A Difference Day, which she donated to Strong Against Cancer at Seattle Children’s Hospital – a little extra money to do a lot more good in childhood cancer research. We asked Sarah to tell us more about the project and the cause that’s so close to her heart.
What inspired you to start the Gold-n-Plum initiative?
After my son had completed his first 14 months of intensive chemotherapy for leukemia in Seattle, another cancer mom and I were trying to figure out how we could "repay" all the kindnesses that had been done for us in our respective communities. We compared notes, and realized that parents are not always able to fend for themselves very well in scary situations regarding their child's illness or injury. When Anthony was diagnosed with leukemia, we were given 15 minutes to be ready for the three-hour ambulance ride to Seattle. When in disbelief and shock, it is near impossible for a parent to pack what they will actually need to survive in the hospital for a few days.
Gold is the color for childhood cancer, and plum is the color for caregiver awareness. Although this project was born out of situations with cancer, the kits are meant for any parent or caregiver who accompanies their child on an ambulance or a life-flight to a larger city for treatment for illness or injury.
Tell us a little more about your Make A Difference Day 2016 project.
On Make A Difference Day 2016, my daughter, son and I collected donations at Pybus Market in Wenatchee. This is a gathering place for our local farmer's market, and is similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle. We assemble the kits throughout the year, and not just on one day. So, receiving donations this day was helpful for an entire year of making kits. Some people brought a bag of kit ingredients from the Dollar Tree, some brought one or two items, and some brought a little bit of money.
What was the most rewarding part of the experience? A favorite memory?
One woman comes each year to donate items for kits, plus she always has an envelope with about $20 in $1 bills. She keeps the envelope on her refrigerator throughout the year, and when she has an extra dollar or two, she'll put it in there for the project!The most rewarding part of the experience is knowing that I am able to help someone who is in a very high stress situation like we've been in. They are made aware that they are not alone, and they can get through their crisis. Three of my favorite memories so far:
- Each year, another woman and her middle-school age daughter go through the flier in our local newspaper to see what projects they want to help with. They go shopping together for items on my list of ingredients, BUT they also add things they feel would be a comfort if they were in a caregiver's shoes.
- I met a mom earlier this summer at a playground whose son had a brain injury last year and had to be life-flighted to Seattle. When someone on Facebook said something about the 2016 award my project won, she was so excited, telling me that her husband had received a kit when they were flown in. She was in the hospital herself, having a baby, at the time of the flight, and so could not help her husband get things ready.
Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved and make a difference in their community?
It helps develop empathy and less hate for others who are different or who are going through tough situations. I LOVE the kind of future citizen that the middle-schooler is, who discusses projects with her mom then acts on the needs of the chosen projects. This ensures a more loving, kind future for every community!
As a 2016 Make A Difference Day Award Winner, you were awarded a $10,000 grant to donate to a charity of your choice. What will that money go toward?
The grant money was donated to Strong Against Cancer, an organization based at Seattle Children's Hospital. The money will go toward finding a cure for children who are afflicted with cancer. My son is so lucky to have had the cancer he did, leukemia. His type of leukemia has the best cure rate, and he is doing great! Other children, far too many children, are not that lucky. I can't even count how many children we have grown to love as part of our family, who have passed away from cancer. Children who will be diagnosed with cancer in the future deserve a cure like my son had.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Be so very grateful for your child's health! I hope you never have to be in our shoes, of being ready for an ambulance ride in 15 minutes or a life flight in five minutes, but if you do, hopefully you will have the support of your community lifting you at the same time.
What are your plans for Make A Difference Day 2017?
I plan to do the same for Make A Difference Day 2017, sitting at the table in Pybus Market, collecting items for future kits. My survivor son and my youngest daughter (his big sister) will be with me, and we will see love in action!
Volunteers across the nation will come together again on Saturday, Oct. 28, to improve their communities for Make A Difference Day. Project organizers are encouraged to register at www.makeadifferenceday.com to be eligible to win a $10,000 grant to donate to a charity related to their Make A Difference Day project.