‘These bags are so cool’: ACGC students create ‘chemo care packages’ for area people undergoing cancer treatment
ATWATER -- The back of LeAnn Melberg's vehicle is jam-packed with pretty purple bags stuffed with things like a fleece lap blanket, lotion, hand sanitizer, hard candies and single-serving containers of applesauce and juice.
ATWATER –– The back of LeAnn Melberg’s vehicle is jam-packed with pretty purple bags stuffed with things like a fleece lap blanket, lotion, hand sanitizer, hard candies and single-serving containers of applesauce and juice.
In short order, a group of kids gather up the bags and carry them into the Willmar Regional Cancer Center.
“This is awesome,” said Barb Hoeft, director of the center. “The patients are just thrilled about it.”
The bags are chemo care packages made by fourth- and fifth-grade students at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City this month.
After sending out a request for donations in April, the students filled 105 bags of goodies to give to people undergoing treatment for cancer.
On May 19, they delivered their second batch of bags to the cancer center in Willmar.
“Oh, these are the bag people,” said a nurse as the kids rounded the corner.
“These bags are so cool. People really like them,” chimed in another nurse.
“What you do is very important for cancer patients,” said Hoeft.
The project began when Melberg and a group of friends from Renville County heard about the efforts of a little girl named Abby whose Facebook page states her goal of getting chemo care bags to 1,000 people in each state.
Melberg asked her son, Eric, if he would like to make cards to go with the bags the women had planned to put together. But Eric suggested that his fourth-grade class might like to make bags too.
Eric’s teacher, Amy Ripperger, agreed to make it a class project in honor of Nick Lilleberg, the father of one of her students, who is currently being treated for cancer.
Because Lilleberg has two other children, including a fifth-grader, the project grew to include both grades working together to gather donations and put the bags together.
“It just kept evolving,” said Melberg.
Notes were sent home with the kids with a list of recommended items to put in the purple bags and the donations poured in.
As the kids worked on the project, Melberg said it was obvious they liked the feeling of doing something for others and want to keep giving.
“Kids don’t feel that until they’re part of something big,” she said.
She said many of the kids have close personal connections to people with cancer, and at least 20 of the bags were given to people with direct connections to the students.
“There were so many kids that could tell these stories. It was really sad,” said Melberg.
Kristi Lilleberg said her husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Valentine’s Day. She and the couple’s three children, Levi, Jillien and Prestan, were helping to carry the purple bags into the cancer center to make sure others being treated for cancer were treated to some community compassion.
“It’s great to see the kids get involved,” said Lilleberg.
While delivering the bags, the group discovered a neighbor from Atwater, Karen Hanson, who was getting a chemo treatment while her husband, Dean, kept her company. The kids hand-delivered a care bag to Hanson, who beamed and appreciatively pulled out items from the bag.
The next day, Hanson posted her response to receiving the bag on Abby’s Purple Bag Facebook page.
“What a wonderful surprise it was to see these so young children there and excited about cheering someone up,” she wrote. “Thanks to the ACGC 4th and 5th graders. You made my day.”
Linda Olson, of Willmar, received one of the ACGC purple bags earlier this month when she was at the cancer center.
“It was just so touching,” said Olson in a telephone interview. “I just cried.”
Oftentimes there’s silence and time for “thinking way too much” at the cancer center, said Olson. But when she saw another woman with a purple bag, it gave them something positive to talk about.
“These kids are amazing to have done this,” said Olson. “People just need to know.”
While leading the students on a tour of the cancer center, Dr. Tod Speer encouraged them to keep studying math and science. “We could use some good minds out there,” he said. “You could be the next one to find the cure.”
Speer told the students that their purple bags are “so appreciated” by his patients.
“It’s a good thing you’re doing,” said Hoeft.
Megan Morrison, an ACGC School Board member and mom of three kids who were helping deliver the bags to the cancer center, said schools can teach students math and reading “but it’s these side projects that give them the life skills of being a good community member.”
Melberg said there’s already talk about continuing the project next year.