Foundation's satchels carry message of hope to cancer patients
May 23, 2011 4:00 AM
Handmade bags from The Satchels of Caring Foundation contain helpful items such as head scarves and coupons for turbans for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
By Pohla Smith Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Satchels of Caring Foundation provides a "full circle of giving" for volunteers who make the satchels and those who receive them, says foundation president Heather Knuth.
The satchels, filled with useful items like head scarves, coupons good for turbans, and journals, go to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, who often write much-appreciated thank-you notes.
"One of the things that makes us be able to continue the program is to get a thank you from a person you've never met, and they say you reached them at a dark time in their life and made them feel so blessed that people cared when they'd never met them," said Ms. Knuth, a breast cancer survivor.
"We feel we get just as much making [the bags] as others do getting and receiving a bag. ... A lot of people who help find it's a therapeutic way of feeling they're making a difference."
The foundation has made and distributed more than 6,000 satchels since Pittsburgh CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) took on helping women's chemo patients with headgear and inspirational items in connection with the American Cancer Society's Look Good Feel Better program in 2003.
Most of the satchels distributed have been beautiful and feminine hand-sewn shoulder bags of colorful fabrics and trim. Besides the scarf, turban coupon and journal, their contents include such items as a knitted cap (in season), a bookmark, a booklet of inspirational quotes, a relaxation CD, notecards, and helpful brochures from cancer-related agencies.
But last year, the foundation also began limited distribution of a men's satchel that was the Eagle Scout project of South Fayette teenager Alex Speidel. They are available only by personal request and at the Cancer Caring Center, in Bloomfield, and the Arnold Palmer Pavilion at Mountain View, in Greensburg.
The women's bag, in contrast, is distributed by 10 hospitals and agencies to patients in 12 counties.
"When we first started this mission, it was for women. ... That's what we feel we do best," Ms. Knuth said. "That's where we've made inroads and contacts. Men are just a little bit different. There are different distributors and clinical people. We grow by baby steps, so this is our first inroads into supporting men."
The men's satchel itself, a manufactured item, is a small, black duffel-type bag that Alex got donated to the foundation. "We tried to take the contents [of the women's bags] and modify them for men, but some things can't be modified, like the knitted cap," Ms. Knuth said.
For example, the floral inspirational booklet in the women's bags is navy blue in the men's, and instead of a scarf and tying instructions, the men receive a ball cap. But there was nothing to substitute for the floral package of facial tissues the feminine bags contain; instead the men's bags have Scouts-made key chains.
But the difference in contents has no impact on the hundreds of man hours spent filling 1,000 or more bags a year, as the foundation has done annually since 2008.
"I would say throughout the year we might have 60 people stuffing and filling bags, and because we distribute the bags in quarterly increments we are having people stuff bags every month," Ms. Knuth said. Those 60 include people from Pittsburgh Cares, Girl Scout troops, and from Bank of New York Mellon's two volunteer days each year.
"People love to do that part," she added.
Volunteers also must cut and match the fabric donated by professional interior design resources, and volunteers must sew them together. School districts' family consumer science classes play a big role in the sewing; individuals and sewing and quilting groups also volunteer.
"We probably have a dozen school districts and then probably at least 20 individual sewers," Ms. Knuth said.
In the meantime, the foundation looks for grants from agencies such as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Pittsburgh affiliate and individual contributions because the cost of each bag's contents approaches $25.
That is one of the reasons that, though the foundation went over its 1,000-satchel goal by 100 in 2008 and by 64 bags last year, its goal for 2011 again is 1,000 satchels.
"One thousand is doable for us," Ms. Knuth said. "Financially we can support a thousand, and we feel confident to get a thousand sewn, cause that's a lot of sewing."
To request a bag or for more information, call 412-220-7822. Checks made payable to the Satchels of Caring Foundation should be sent to Box 644, Bridgeville, PA 15017. A receipt will be mailed back to the donor.