By Sherrie Norris
While most people were stretching out their Independence Day holiday on Monday, July 5, Lauren Stansberry and her husband, Matt, were delivering comfort – one bag at a time to the local cancer center.
It’s something Lauren has been doing for seven years, a ministry that has expanded way beyond Boone, and one that has lifted the spirits of cancer patients of all ages.
It all started, Stansberry told High Country Press, after she began selling Thirty-One Gifts in February 2011.
One of the main reasons she even started the journey, she said, was to give back something to her community, even if It took her a few years to get to a place where she could actually do that.
“ I remember during a training session, a consultant shared how she did a school supply drive using our bags for her local schools. I thought what a neat idea, but I wanted something of my own.”
In January 2015, she came up with the idea to put together Chemo Comfort Bags.
“I never had any family or friends directly affected by cancer until a few months prior, so it seemed fitting as it was hitting closer to home for me,” she explained.
To make it happen, Stansberry began reaching out to her customers, family, friends and other associates, offering opportunities to sponsor a bag; she uses her commission from the bag sales to fill the bags with an assortment of “comfort items,” along with other things that are now donated. Those items might include blankets, fuzzy gripper socks, hats/beanies, word search puzzles, teas, water bottle, Chapstick, lotion, hand sanitizer, daily devotionals and a handwritten note.
Then, after the bags are assembled, she delivers them to the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center in Boone where they are distributed to cancer patients going through treatment.
“It is my hope — and that of all who are involved in this project — that we can help brighten their day and put a smile on their faces,” Stansberry added.
And, according to Angie Del Nero, Oncology Social Worker at Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center, that hope is easily attained.
“The comfort bags that Lauren provides are so appreciated by our patients,” Del Nero said. “I get the fun job of handing them out and get to see the smiles — and tears. People are so moved that someone they do not know took the time to put this together to add a little bit of light to their day.”
Stansberry’s recent delivery of bags to the center totaled 41, not counting 10 additional bags that she also prepared and sent outside of Boone upon request.
“I have shipped many over the years to patients all over the United States,” she said with her signature smile familiar to all who know her.
Now in her seventh year of spreading cheer through the bags, Stansberry said she hopes to do it for many more years to come.
And, one of the neat things about it is, she added, she’s at a pace now where she’s able to do it twice a year, instead of only once _ “which is a real blessing.”
“I never realized when I started with this idea what a huge
impact it would have — not only on me, but on all the patients who have received a bag,” she said. “I have received so many phone calls, text messages, cards in the mail, messages from patients and their family members over the years thanking me for doing this, or to tell me they received a bag and how much it meant to them or how nice it was to have these items on treatment days. When I delivered last December 2020, the oncology social worker emailed me after I dropped the bags off and said “Just had a patient cry and tell me she doesn’t know you, but she loves you.”
Quick to acknowledge that she couldn’t do this alone, Stansberry said the success of the project would not be possible without the support from her customers, family, friends and others in the community who sponsor bags and donate items.
“I want to say a big thank you especially to JoAnn Pardue and Linda Cornett for donating crocheted headbands and hats, to Kim Kirby for tea and face masks, and to The Rock Church for donating fuzzy gripper socks for this round of bags. It means so much that people want to help out and give back just as much as I do.”
In addition to these adult bags, Stansberry said, she has also been able to do several rounds of Children’s Blessing Bins for youngsters going through cancer treatments. “And those bags have been delivered to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.”
Due to COVID, she was unable to do those in the last year, but she hopes to resume that delivery in the near future.
In the last seven years, Stansberry has been able to put together and distribute more than 400 bags.
“I’m thankful to be a positive part in each of these patients’ journey to beat cancer,” she said.
Anyone interested in helping sponsor future Chemo Comfort Bags, to donate items for them, or for more information on other ways to help, contact Stansberry through Facebook, email her at [email protected], or call 678-438-7954.