Fall is just around the corner, and that means it is also the time of year when the drive for donations to the Chemo Comfort Tote project gets in full swing. While donations are accepted and encouraged year round, Mary Harbur explained that the push really comes in September and October.
Harbur and her friend Lyndi Miller started the Chemo Comfort Tote project following Harbur’s own experience with breast cancer and receiving a similar comfort bag during her treatments. The bags are filled with comfort essential items for cancer patients such as lip balm, unscented lotion, candy and gum, hand sanitizer, blankets, games, journals, pens and reusable water bottles.
“We kind of collect all through the year but I don’t know if people understand that,” Harbur explained. “We focus more on getting information out this time of year. The deadline for the totes this year is Oct. 29 - we can accept after that but that allows us to get the big bulk of the totes.”
The totes are delivered to cancer patients at Heartland Hematology & Oncology in Kearney, CHI Health Cancer Care at Good Samaritan in Kearney, and Callahan Cancer Center in North Platte. Bags are also given to the Lexington, Cozad and Gothenburg hospitals. Harbur said they usually distribute the totes in November and December, with the goal of trying to get them all delivered before the holidays.
Each year Harbur and Miller invite those who donate or sponsor totes to gather for a big “fill party”, where an assembly line is formed and the items are packed in the bags. However, due to Covid that did not take place last year - instead the Harbur family filled the totes - all 217 of them.
“We are anticipating an in-person tote filling party again this year,” Harbur said excitedly. “Of course that’s still a few months away and anything can happen, but as of now we are planning that.”
A donation of $40 purchases the very nice, reusable vinyl bags filled with essentials. But Harbur said providing the totes is so much more than just providing comfort items. “The totes also offer a glimmer of hope and understanding to someone who is probably going through the most difficult season of their lives,” she said. “We just want them to know we are here, and we understand.”
By collecting items throughout the year, Harbur and Miller are able to provide totes when needed all year long. Cancer, after all, doesn’t just strike during a particular season. “We have given out probably 10 extra totes over the summer that have been requested by local people which we mailed out,” said Harbur. “Sadly, two or three of those have been for kids. We use drawstring cinch sacks for kids but those have to be done on an as needed basis so they are made specifically for the child. I usually try to put something in there for the parents too - restaurant gift cards, Visa gift cards, things like that. People can donate those kinds of things as well.
“Things like blankets and journals can carry over so we have extra on hand once the totes for this year are filled,” Harbur continued. “I keep a database of everything we have so if someone wants to know what is needed they can call and ask. Things like gum and hard candy are always needed too.”
To sponsor a Chemo Comfort Tote, or donate items or money, contact coordinators Lyndi Miller at 520-0664 or Mary Harbur at 529-2205. Donations may also be made via PayPal using the email: email@example.com. If preferred, checks may be sent to: Mary Harbur, 40870 Hwy 30, Gothenburg NE, 69138.