Law enforcement agencies deliver gift bags to chemotherapy patients in Fountain Valley

By Lou Ponsi

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Steven Thompson recently underwent grueling chemotherapy to stop the growth of cancer cells in his body.

Thompson knows any kind gesture coming from family members, friends, and even strangers makes it easier to endure the debilitating chemo treatments.

OCSD Dep. Steven Thompson, left, and Dep. Pete Chavez carry boxes of gift bags for chemotherapy patients up to the Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

So when the deputy had the opportunity to join other law enforcement officers in handing out care packages to patients receiving chemotherapy, he didn’t pass it up.

Thompson was among a group of deputies and officers from several O.C. agencies who donated funds and delivered backpacks filled with comfort items to the Compassionate Care Cancer Center in Fountain Valley on Feb. 25.

Law enforcement officers and deputies from Orange County partner with consultants from Thirty-One Gifts to deliver gift bags to chemotherapy patients at Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The backpacks were filled with lotions, lip balm, blankets, hand sanitizer, candy and other items used to bring some relief to chemo patients.

“I had hundreds of people come to my house and I didn’t even know who they were, and just by somebody sitting there and taking to me for five minutes, (that) changed the day for me,” said Thompson, referring to his own treatment. “I would do it as much as they wanted me to.”

Irvine PD Officer Rafaelo Papale helps carry comfort bags for chemotherapy patients at Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Irvine Police Officer Rafaelo Papale and his wife, Jenn, started delivering the care packages in 2016 in response to a friend who was battling breast cancer.

The couple donated 67 filled backpacks to the cancer center that first year.

The Papales reached out to friends at other agencies and saw the number of volunteers grow to 87 backpacks the following year.

Law enforcement officers from various agencies in Orange County, including Irvine PD, OC Sheriff’s Department and Orange PD, gather with members from Thirty-One Gifts before bringing gift bags for chemotherapy patients up to the 3rd floor of the Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

In 2018, nearly 120 were delivered.

And on Feb. 27, volunteers dropped off almost 400 backpacks.

“A lot of these people don’t have anyone to take care of them,” Papale said. “For us, it’s the least we can do. I’ve known a few people that have passed away from cancer and it’s not an easy fight. The more people you have supporting you along the way, the better your odds are.”

Along with OCSD and Irvine PD, agencies represented included the Tustin, Seal Beach, Newport Beach, Buena Park, and Los Alamitos police departments.

Orange PD Sgt. Scott Jorgensen helps carry gift bags for chemotherapy patients up to the 3rd floor at Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

A local Girl Scout troop also helped out.

Online retailer Thirty-One Gifts, where Jen Papale works, donated the commissions from the sale of the backpacks to go toward the purchase of the items.

The mission also had deep meaning for Orange PD Sgt. Scott Jorgensen, who lost his mother to cancer.

“It bought back memories for me,” Jorgensen said. “I never saw her actually having to go through the chemo. Having to see what she went through for five hours every couple of weeks for 10 years was an eye-opening experience.”

Orange PD Sgt. Scott Jorgensen, left, and Irvine PD Officer Rafaelo Papale bring gift bags to chemotherapy patients at the Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Dr. Jan Pan, an oncologist at Compassionate Care, said the backpacks make a difference for their patients.

“I think it really helps the patients to remember somebody is thinking about them,” Pan said. “A lot of times, they really feel alone in this process. To know that other people are doing things for them and care about them, I think that has a really meaningful impact on them.”

Law enforcement officers and deputies from various agencies in Orange County gather with members of the organization Thirty-One Gifts and medical personnel from the Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group in Fountain Valley. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge