The police officer choked back tears after being asked one simple question.
“Why do you do this?”
Irvine PD Officer Rafaelo Papale, his wife, Jenn, her co-worker and officers from other agencies had just spent the morning of April 4 delivering 87 filled backpacks to chemotherapy patients receiving treatment at the Compassionate Cancer Care Center in Fountain Valley.
The backpacks included items meant to provide comfort such as soft blankets, lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissue, healthy snacks and a journal.
The gesture couldn’t be any more personal for the Papales, who were donating the care packages for the second year in a row.
In 2016, the couple donated 67 filled backpacks to show support for their friend, Briana Baldwin, who was battling breast cancer and receiving treatment at the Compassionate Cancer Care Center.
Unfortunately, Baldwin lost her fight with the disease.
“We had our good friend that we started this for and she is not here,” Officer Papale said. “I’ve had a lot of people that I’ve known in the past who have been affected by cancer. Cancer sucks. We want to do anything we can do to help and make them more comfortable.”
The gifts were made possible by in-kind donations from Westminster, Garden Grove, Tustin and Irvine police associations and other groups.
“For me it was a no brainer,” said Tustin PD Officer Matt Roque, on his motivation to help. “We’ve participated in the Relay for Life for the last several years and usually we are the biggest team. This is a chance to do something a little more personal. You don’t get more personal than creating a bag that really gives somebody comfort.”
Last year, 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.
“Cancer is one of those things that it touches everybody,” Garden Grove PD Officer Ed DesBiens said. “So, anything we can do to help out to ease the pain, to help somebody through … it’s the right thing to do. We are getting involved and we are going to continue to get involved.”
Doctors, nurses and staff welcomed and thanked the officers and their helpers and were eager to pose for group photos.
“Chemo patients need love and care and compassion,” Dr. Haresh Jhangiani said. “Every little gesture helps our patients tremendously. We really appreciate the police departments and the civilians who come out.”
Officer Papales said they plan to return to the center with care packages every year.
“The hope is that we can supply enough for all the patients for the whole year until the following year comes up,” he said.