Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation brings Christmas to families in need
The Santa Barbara Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation launched its “Season of Hope” fundraising campaign on Friday with “Teddy Bear Elves” ready to help families in need.
In its annual tradition of Project Christmas, TBCF staff and volunteers prepared a mountain of gifts and holiday decorations to deliver to tri-county families with children with pediatric cancer and their siblings.
This weekend, TBCF volunteers will have served 35 families, which is around 100 gifts, to families through Project Christmas (families with the highest need) and 84 families outside of Project Christmas, according to Tessa Boyce, the TBCF volunteer coordinator.
“Everyone’s had a difficult year, but the community still does want to support our families in a time when they need support the most,” she told the News-Press. “Project Christmas is a program in which we want to sponsor a family for Christmas so they don’t have to worry about anything having to do with Christmas.”
The deliveries include a real or fake Christmas tree (whichever the family prefers), $100 worth of gifts for each child in the family based on their Christmas lists, a grocery gift card, holiday lights, hot chocolate and stocking stuffers. The families outside of Project Christmas receive $25 gifts.
This year, because of COVID-19, staff put the children’s wish lists on Amazon so donors had the option to ship gifts straight to the office.
Volunteers will leave the gifts and trees at the front door of each household today at a pre-arranged time, ring the doorbell and step back safely before family members open the door.
The “Season of Hope” campaign will run through the holidays into 2021.
Ms. Boyce is a cancer survivor herself, and said she knows firsthand what it’s like to go through treatment.
“You feel really alone and isolated, and especially this year, I think people kind of got a glimpse into what it is like for a cancer family with the isolation and loneliness,” she said. “This year, more than any other year, it’s so important that we not only are able to support these families that maybe wouldn’t be able to have Christmas without our financial help, but to give them a little bit of joy and normalcy — that is what everybody is wishing for and wanting.”
Nanci Alvarado, a social worker for the Pediatric Oncology Clinic at Cottage Health, is one of the individuals identifying the families most in need of support.
“2020 is crazy in and of itself, especially if you have a kid with cancer,” she told the News-Press. “Families are forced to be home, which really isn’t that different for a kid with cancer anyway. Wearing a mask is what they’re used to — this is their jam.
“But it does pose a lot of issues as well with families.”
She pointed out that while one parent typically has to stay home to care for their child enduring cancer, right now, the other parent could be out of work because of COVID-19.
“A lot of people don’t have money for even food, much less Christmas or Thanksgiving or any of that,” Ms. Alvarado said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the parents for sure, and every kid will get a Christmas present when they normally wouldn’t.”
This is TBCF Executive Director Corey Pahanish’s first Christmas in his position with the organization. He said Friday that it’s already been a very overwhelming experience for him.
“I think what I’m most excited about is knowing that all the hard work our supporters, our staff and our board are investing in this process will manifest into countless families and children and all the families that surround them having a joyful Christmas,” he told the News-Press. “I can’t imagine a more important Christmas in my lifetime than the one that we are currently facing during a global pandemic.
“Some of them are trying to figure out whether or not they’re actually going to have a Christmas this year, so I can’t imagine a more dispiriting experience than that.”
With his own mother passing recently from cancer, the holiday hits home for Mr. Pahanish, which is why he believes what TBCF is doing is “very purposeful work.”
“To be a part of an organization that’s providing this meaningful intervention, and I’m not just simply pointing at handing out gifts — yes, that’s an important element of Christmas — but we’re injecting this holiday spirit, and that, to me, is the most exciting part of this campaign.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, TBCF has provided over $7,000 in emergency grocery gift cards, awarded 37 families an additional $500 to their Special Circumstance Fund, doubled the number of family support groups and provided additional meals to 137 families.
To help bring the Christmas spirit to families dealing with pediatric cancer this holiday season, make a donation at teddybearcancerfoundation.org.