Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Love in a Bag

Every year, I volunteer for a local Denver service called Project Valentine. On or around Valentine’s Day, a team of drivers fans out across the metro area to deliver Valentine’s goodie bags to chemo patients – 600 this year. The annual project was founded by Colleen Anderson, an ovarian cancer patient – like me – who had her first chemo treatment on Valentine’s Day 2001. Though Colleen succumbed to her cancer in 2007, her project lives on, and brings smiles to cancer patients each February.

When you have a needle in your arm or a port on your chest and you’re attached to an IV bag dripping poisonous chemicals into your body for several hours, it’s amazing how little it takes to bring a smile to your face. I would revel in the friends who came to sit with me during treatment, take-out lunch delivered to my chemo chair, the hand-knit hats and scarves made by volunteers, and even the cheesy song accompanied by balloons performed by the staff for each patient’s last treatment.

Of course, it’s great to deliver goodie bags, see the smiles on patient’s faces, receive the hugs and thank yous, but so many people work hard year-round to make this project possible. Fundraising, seeking product donations, craft days, stuffing, sorting and picking up the bags for delivery all have to get done as well. There are countless volunteers who organize and work hard behind the scenes with little thanks or recognition. That is why I’m taking the opportunity of my column to thank them for all that they do to make this program possible. I am hoping their work will inspire you to do something great in your own community.

The Obamas have done a great job of encouraging service on Martin Luther King Day, as so many past presidents have also highlighted service as one of the best contributions American’s can make. Jimmy Carter has played a large role in the work of Habitat for Humanity. George Bush Sr. emphasized the Thousand Points of Light, which inspired the foundation of the same name, now merged with the Hands On Network. Bill Clinton founded the Clinton Global Initiative, whose mission is to encourage investment, grow the economy and create jobs through private-public partnership.

Martin Luther King said, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” There is something each of us can do to brighten someone’s day, and God knows there is so much to be done. You don’t have to be president to do something great. Look at Colleen. From founding your own non-profit, to volunteering with one in your community or just writing a check to a cause you support, you can serve in whatever way is best for you. Charities are really suffering in this economy, and anything you can give will be gratefully received. Out of work? How about donating some of your now abundant free time to a good cause. Jim Pancero said, “Doing something for nothing is better than doing nothing for nothing.”

I used to make it a point to send valentines to all of my single friends. V-Day, or “Singles Awareness Day” if you prefer, is tough on those without partners. Imagine how tough it is to be single AND have cancer. Yikes! That’s why one of my goals this year is to expand Project Valentine to send goody bags to single cancer patients around the country. I’m not quite sure yet how I’ll pull this off, but I plan to partner with some great organizations that are already doing good work such as Chemo Angels, I’m Too Young For This and Imerman Angels. If you have ideas about how to identify single cancer patients or make this project work, please share them with me, or feel free to share ideas you have for a project of your own. Thanks for what you do to make your community a better place.

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