picking berries and glass for families

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these days, when she sets the budget and decides where to allocate resources, debbie fraley always remembers the berry-picking nephew. it was 26 years ago. a man received excellent cancer treatment through the fred hutchinson cancer center, and the family assistance fund received its first donation. the man’s 10-year-old nephew was so grateful for the treatment that his uncle received, and so moved by the plight of many families whose savings were quickly devoured by the many costs of treatment, that he spent the summer picking berries. he sold the berries by the side of the road, and then donated the proceeds to the cancer alliance when the summer ended.

that first donation totaled $67, ms. fraley told me. she has served as the housing and family assistance coordinator at seattle cancer care alliance for 26 years, in partnership with the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center. she has watched the family assistance fund grow a lot since that humble, apocryphal origin. now, the fund serves hundreds of families per year.

“we have two categories of service,” ms. fraley says. one is what she calls “petty cash”: occasional grocery money, safeway gift cards, parking fee reimbursement, or bus fare. the second category is longer-term help, such as weekly grocery stipends, or help for out-of-towners who need to pay rent in seattle during extended treatment.

as the fund has grown, so has the need for these services. ms. fraley’s job now requires a well-disciplined parsimony: there is only so much funding to distribute, and the number of people who need help is high and growing. she has the difficult yet necessary job of saying “no.”

“you always wish you could do more,” she says. “it’s always hard to tell one family that another family needs the help more than they do. a lot of families think that they have enough money saved, but cancer comes on suddenly and costs a lot. all the little costs add up. necessities get harder and harder to afford.”

and for the last several years, the fund has been over budget, despite ms. fraley’s judgment and discipline. the need for support grows. “that’s why we’re so grateful for this wonderful gift from the glassybaby community,” she says, referring to the $24,000 donation raised during glassybaby’s january seconds sale. donations like that help ms. fraley say “yes” more often, and when she says “yes,” a family receives wonderful help.

one such family consisted of brandon and anita, a son-and-mother from the lacey area. here is anita’s testimonial to the family assistance fund’s support:

“In February 2016, my son was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.  While he initially had good health insurance through his work, it didn’t cover housing.  Being closer to SCCA and UW Medical Center was deemed essential for his treatments.  I became his primary caregiver and we moved to SCCA House.  While still dealing with all the emotions involved with his illness, I also experienced a bit of panic about how we were going to pay for everything because I am retired and on a fixed income. Through help from the Family Assistance Fund, we were able to stay at SCCA House for almost four months.  It truly was like a guardian angel.  I’m not sure I’m articulate enough to adequately express my gratitude.  But I will try every chance I get.”

anita was so grateful for the assistance she received that she was willing to share her story with us. thank you, anita. and thank you to the glassybaby community, for helping to provide the support that vulnerable families need.

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