By James Niedzinski
---- — GLOUCESTER — Some people may wonder where their money will go when throwing change into a Salvation Army red bucket; Cape Ann residents, wonder no more.
The Salvation Army teamed up with Addison Gilbert Hospital last year, and the results have proven winners for both agencies.
City Councilor Sefatia Romeo Theken, who started volunteering with the Salvation Army 15 years ago, helped spearhead the pilot program and has worked closely with Addison Gilbert’s oncology department. Together, both Romeo Theken and oncology nurse Joanne Gibbs have been raising funds for cancer patients both in and out of the hospital.
Gibbs said that AGH’s Lights of Love fund-raiser is in it’s fifth year and the response keeps getting better and better with $75,000 raised since it’s inception. The money goes toward patients of Gorton’s Specialty and Cancer Care Center within the hospital.
Romeo Theken then steps in after patients are out of the hospital and prepare for life lives after initial treatment. The Salvation Army, meanwhile, steers some of its kettle dive money to give out food vouchers and gift cards to families and patients suffering from cancer.
This year, more than 50 families received about $300 in gift cards and food vouchers, with the money collected by the local service unit of the Salvation Army goes straight back to patients and their families, she said.
She said that, between chemotherapy, radiation therapy and lack of short term disability, many patients are unable to work and need extra income.
“If you want to get better physically, you have to get better mentally,” Romeo Theken said. “It’s not going to pay their mortgage, but it will lift their spirits. The gifts were handed out around the same time last year, in order to bring new hope into the new year.”
Traci Gilliss, a 47-year-old Gloucester resident, can attest first hand how the program helps cancer patients.
Gilliss has been battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma for the past eight years. She said she has been through numerous chemotherapy treatments, even having a stem cell transplant in 2010. She has since been on various pain medication, vitamins and supplements, but remains in pain most of the day.
Before her diagnosis, Gilliss worked at The Landing at Seven Central in Manchester for five years as a manager and bartender. She said it was devastating to leave her job, but she simply could not do the heavy lifting and preparation bartenders need to do.
“Some people have their passions like knitting or sports — I worked,” she said.
She addes, however, that she still stays in touch with her coworkers, who have been supportive.
Gilliss’s friends and family began making her meals when she was sick, and thagt’s where the Salvation Army projecgt comes in.
“(Romeo Theken) sent me home with enough food for four days,” Gillis said.
She used her Kohl’s gift card to thank her family and friends for being so supportive, she bought a sweater, a nekclace, ornaments and candles.
“I wanted to let them know I appreciate everything they have done,” she said.
She added she does not rely on the food voucher or gift card to survive, but she is thankful for them.
“There are many people who have it worse off than I do,” she said.
Gilliss treated herself too, along with her family. Gilliss said she has not gone on any lavish vacations, as they are too expensive and can be tough to do with non-Hodkins lymphoma. Her treat, however, is Izzi — a small yorkie she bought in March of this year.
While celebrating the program, the Salvation Army is also still reaching out for volunteers. William Leslie, service extenstion director for Massachusetts, said the one-of-a-kind program simply needs more support.
He said as of last week, donations are down 40 percent of where they were last year.
“This isn’t designed to solve all the problems in the world, but it makes a difference,” he said.
To join the Salvation Army red kettle campaign, call 617-756-2516.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.