Story by Chelsea Flood/ Photos courtesy of Ken Houser
For some, the start of the holiday season is marked by cooler weather, the day after Thanksgiving, or the continuous stream of Christmas music. But for volunteers at the Children Cancer Network in Chandler, it’s their annual Santa’s workshop, a community gift-wrapping party for families battling pediatric cancer.
Patti Luttrell, executive director of the CCN, said:
“This is a very fun and festive program we offer each year. Volunteers have even told us it’s truly the start of their holiday season.”
This year nearly 120 volunteers showed up on Dec. 10 to wrap 1,000 gifts collected for the 60 families that CCN has adopted this year.
The gifts are chosen according to each family’s needs, including toys, clothes, games, books, bikes, hygiene products—even household items.
Patti—with husband Steve, daughter Jenny and son Jeff—decided to start the holiday program in 2005 when they came to the realization that cancer treatment takes such a financial toll on families that, by the time Christmas rolls around, little is to spend on gifts or even a tree.
“The program first started with the idea for providing gifts for children and their families. But during the crash in ’08, we came to the realization that it wasn’t just about the gifts. Families were looking for basic needs to be met as well and we knew we had to help,” Luttrell says.
“We take our time identifying exactly what each family needs and we help these families and set them on their way. It’s a great time to provide holiday cheer for all.”
Luttrell adds: “You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t have beds.”
The families are chosen each year by their social workers who then communicate with three CCN ambassadors, Kathy, Julie and Glenna. From there, a group of “shoppers” purchases the various gifts up until the holiday wrapping party.
The following Saturday, Dec.17, will be their official distribution party. The families, who are able to, are invited to CCN to enjoy lunch, meet Santa, mingle with other families, and collect their gifts.
In addition to the Santa Workshop, CCN provides gas and meal cards, hospital admission kits to help new families navigate the road ahead, adopt-a-family programs, activities that boost self-confidence in young cancer fighters, programs to help siblings cope with cancer, funding for childhood cancer research, advocacy, as well as many other services and resources.
“Here at CCN our mission is to provide anything that the hospitals and insurance companies are unable to,” Luttrell says. “Every day in the office is different for us because families always come first, no matter what.”
The organization prides itself on its commitment to be a main point of contact in the community for families battling with a pediatric cancer diagnosis. CCN represents 35 national and local programs, meaning it always tries to find the right program for each family.
“The best part of our organization is that we are here when you need us,” Luttrell says. “Some families come and go, some stay forever. We’re here from the moment they are diagnosed and every sing day after. We have worked hard to create a wonderful community where we can offer support no matter where they are in their journey. Connections are a huge part of what we do here. We help them realize that they’re not alone, nor do they need to be.”
The wrapping party represents exactly what the holiday season is all about.
“The heart of this program is based around the hope and connections it provides,” Luttrell says. “We want to be able to offer some sort of relief through the holidays during their tough journey. It’s definitely our most labor-intensive program, but it means so much to all of us. Seeing the joy on their faces is truly what it’s all about.”
Children’s Cancer Network is a qualified charitable Arizona Tax Credit Organization. Donations up to $400 as an individual or $800 if married and filing jointly will receive the entire amount back, dollar for dollar. Donations can be submitted to www.childrenscancernetwork.org/donate/