COVINGTON, Wash. — Janis Cupp dreamed up Chemo Bags of Hope while undergoing her own battle with cancer.
Her daughter, Jennifer Baxter, remembers going to chemo treatments and sitting with her mom for five or six hours at a time.
"It can be really boring," Baxter said. "She would pack things in her bag for me to do."
Baxter's longtime friend, Jennifer Culp, gave Cupp a bunch of little goodies to help pass the time and make her comfortable during her treatments. Cupp put the items in a bag and took them with her to chemo. In the middle of her treatments, it occurred to Cupp that there are people starting chemo that could use an act of kindness in their lives.
"My mom came up with this idea. 'Hey why not make these for other people?'" Baxter said.
For her birthday that year, Cupp and her family assembled 35 goodie bags to pass out to other patients.
Cupp lost her own battle with cancer three months later.
But three years later, her legacy lives on.
Chemo Bags of Hope is still going strong under the leadership of Baxter and Culp. Together, with an army of volunteers, they are giving out 1,500 bags a year to people battling cancer at centers in Auburn, Puyallup, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Mount Vernon, and Portland.
Baxter and Culp collect items like coloring books, blankets, hard candies, crossword puzzles, folders, and thank you cards throughout the year.
They also have a Facebook page where people can post deals on items that would be good for the bags. Many things are donated, but they also buy in bulk with money given to the cause.
About four times a year, Baxter opens up the garage at her Covington home and invites volunteers to help stuff bags. Each event, new faces show up to help.
Kaylee Rankin, 13, got involved after her friends surprised her with one of the bags. She was in treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma at Seattle Children's hospital.
"It brought me joy, and I wanted to share that with others," said Rankin, who is now in remission.
The Chemo Bags of Hope Facebook page has more than 350 members.
"I'm very surprised at how big it's grown," Culp said. "It's an easy way to give back, but it all gives so much joy to people."
"No one seems to be untouched by cancer these days. I think because of that, people want to get involved," Baxter said. "It isn't just about the stuff. It's about hope, because the idea is that a perfect stranger wants to help you."
Baxter believes her mom's idea for Cancer Bags of Hope was her greatest gift to her family.
"It's allowed us to help other people and in helping other people, we've healed from losing her," Baxter said. "We will continue her legacy of helping others in need as long as this horrible disease exists."