The elderly woman pulled her red cable-knit sweater tight around her body and settled in to the plush leather chair.
As nurses readied the bag that would hang on the IV pole next to her, one walked over and told the woman in Vietnamese that she has something for her and handed her a red drawstring bag.
The woman with thinning hair and sallow skin, likely results of the chemotherapy, looked confused until the nurse explained it was a gift from the police officers and woman who were standing nearby.
The woman opened the bag, looked at its contents and smiled.
This was exactly the reaction Jenn Papale had hoped for.
Jenn Papale, along with her husband, Westminster PD Officer Rafaelo Papale, and officers from the Fountain Valley, Garden Grove and Tustin police departments on a recent Friday delivered 63 care packages to patients receiving treatment at the Fountain Valley Compassionate Cancer Care Center.
“Sometimes people just need to be loved and they need to know there are other people out there who care about them, even if it’s not someone they know,” she said. “They need to know there are people out there in the world rooting for them.”
Jenn Papale, a consultant with the purse and tote bag company Thirty-One, committed to donating 20 bags for the center, but ended up more than tripling her goal when local law enforcement got involved.
“They were so super generous,” she said. “The members of these police officers associations didn’t know who these bags were going to, really.
“They just wanted to know they could support a place that serves the people in their area. It was amazing.”
The bags included a soft blanket, warm socks, lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissue, healthy snacks and a journal.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know what these treatments are like,” Rafaelo Papale said. “To the average person, these things might not mean much, but for someone going through chemo, they are the perfect necessities.”
The idea for chemo care packages stemmed from the Papales supporting their friend, Briana Baldwin, in her courageous fight.
Baldwin was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2012 and later learned she had stage IV metastatic cancer.
“When you find out you have cancer it’s not all doom and gloom,” she said. “People come out of the woodwork just to try and make you feel better.
“I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have people praying for me from all across the country.”
Baldwin, an exuberant woman who was all smiles on Friday after receiving a bone marrow booster shot, said even the perpetually positive cancer patients like herself weather difficult times and a simple gesture like a care package can make a huge impact.
“Things like this make you feel good and touch your heart,” Baldwin said. “They give you an inkling that on days when you just don’t feel great, you’re tired or you ache that somebody is out there giving you a hug.”
Jenn Papale posted her idea on social media and friends started to donate. Her husband thought they might make a bigger impact if he reached out to local police departments.
“Everybody knows somebody affected by cancer,” Rafaelo Papale said. “I was so overwhelmed by how willing they were to help right away.”
The police officers associations from Westminster, Tustin, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley donated between $100 and $300 to go toward the care bags and several officers also donated money from their own pockets.
“Our association is always wanting and willing to help,” said Tustin PD Det. Ronnie Sandoval. “We are making an effort to participate in more community events so when this came up, we all agreed we should donate.”
As the officers delivered the bags on Friday, nurses, doctors and staff welcomed them in the waiting room of the center.
“We appreciate this so much and we know our patients appreciate it, too,” said Maya Shahani, administrator of the Compassionate Cancer Care Medical Group.
Next year, the Papales, with the help of local law enforcement agencies, want to grow their outreach efforts.
With 500 patients who receive treatment at the Compassionate Cancer Care Center, that’s a good place to start, Rafaelo Papale said.
“Well, there’s our goal for next year.”