Clarksville resident Sonia Su spent the week before Christmas driving to area hospitals, pulling her vehicle up to the front, popping the trunk open and unloading crates.
It’s become a fairly routine process for Su as her organization Kits to Heart has continued to provide support to hospitals throughout the year by dropping off care packages for cancer patients. This month the group has focused on supplying 100 of its kits to four hospitals: University of Maryland Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and Mercy Medical Center, all in Baltimore, and Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“The holidays can be a really lonely time, especially when you’re in the hospital,” said Su, 27.
For Su, it all started in March 2019. When she walked into her University of Maryland Medical Center hospital room for a 11-day cancer treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she found a green package on the bed from a survivor who stayed in that same cancer unit a year ago.
What once was a kind gesture from a cancer survivor is now Su’s livelihood. She took that idea and founded the nonprofit Kits to Heart, delivering care packages to cancer patients in area hospitals.
The kits are usually composed of cancer treatment essentials, according to Su. She combines the resources she found helpful during her cancer journey with those she wishes she had had by her side. Each kit includes some combination of: ginger chews (a common tool for reducing nausea caused by chemotherapy), hand sanitizer, SPF lotion (cancer patients often have more sensitive skin after cancer treatments), reusable water bottles, washable cloth masks, notebooks, snacks, informational pamphlets, and handmade cards or origami.
The kits had some new items this holiday season, including origami ornaments, felt blankets, gift cards to Walmart or Barnes & Noble, hand sanitizer and holiday-themed masks. The additions were only made possible, Su said, with the assistance of the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County.
When Executive Director Jodie Wang brought up the idea of assisting Su with a holiday venture, they started brainstorming the best ways to make that happen.
“We think the Kits to Heart idea is pretty genius,” said Wang, 40, of Clarksville. “The goal is just what we want to offer to the community.”
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Wang, founder of Wang Art Studio, offered to help Su with the card portion of each of the kits. This way, Wang said, students and parents in the association and students at her art studio alike would be able to assist. All together, Wang gathered 26 volunteers to help with the card-making effort.
“This is the most touching part for all the donors and for me, so we really want to help [Su] to reach her goal and during the process we want to use her as an example to educate,” Wang said. “We are a parent association; we want to set her as the model to educate the parents, the adults and the students.”
After starting the process to make 100 cards for the holiday kits, Wang went a bit further. She created a GoFundMe so people could help Su fill each of the holiday baskets with the necessities. So far the crowdfunding effort has raised more than half of its $5,000 goal.
“It’s incredible to see the support from the community. I had no idea the Chinese American community was so strong in Howard County,” Su said.
Meanwhile, Su said she is just happy that, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a hectic holiday season, she and the Chinese American Parent Association were able to get kits out to patients going through cancer treatment.
“[One] afternoon someone received a kit and they [direct messaged] me on Instagram and said the box helped to bring back her smile,” Su said. “Just the fact that I’ve already received some feedback about these kits is really worth all the blood, sweat and tears.”