FRYBURG – Christmas is always special for the Rhoads family in Fryburg, and with their two children they are involved in special projects that also help make the holidays a learning experience.

This year it was preparing chemotherapy gift bags for patients at the Clarion Hospital Cancer Center and it also gave them a chance to remember a grandma they never knew.

“We try to do a service project with our kids every year,” said Diana Rhoads, a teacher at North Clarion. “One main purpose for doing this is to teach our children that size and age do not matter when it comes to spreading kindness, helping others and making a difference. We’ve done small ones and when they were younger they sent their extra toys to orphanages in Russia a couple of times. In lieu of birthday presents, they’ve made donations for Children’s Hospital and donated toys and things like that.”

Son Dawson is now 5 and daughter Sophia is 7, and parents Diana and Mark Rhoads, a probation officer with Forest County, wanted them to be able to see the end results of their service work. After some research the decision was made to look at chemo gifts packages that patients could use during and after treatment.

“I called the Clarion Cancer Center before we got started and found that they do allow donations and the kids were allowed to go in and could deliver the presents,” said Diana. “Both of my kids were told they needed to do a fundraiser once we found out how many people were in the Cancer Center — they have about 80 patients, and see 10 to 20 of those patients every day. We thought it would be great if we could give 20 of the gift bags for one day, but our ultimate goal was 80 bags for all of the patients.”

The kids went to work on fundraising and Dawson started his own little lemonade stand in September and raised $80. Sophia came up with her own idea, making magnets with many different inspirational items attached.

“I put them on Facebook and people could donate money if they wanted to and she would send them a magnet. I just put my daughter’s items on Facebook and what we had planned to do with them. Donations started rolling in like crazy. In total, they raised over $800 for this project.”

Flush with their proceeds, purchasing all of the ingredients at local stores took an entire day. Visiting four different stores produced eight cart loads and one full trunk — and five hours of shopping later, all money collected was spent and would be used for filling 80 gift bags.

The Rhoads family delivered everything last Thursday morning.

“The kids were so excited to help drop everything off and be there,” said Diana. “They weren’t sure what to expect, but once they were in with the patients they were very excited. The kids hugged them and gave them their packages.”

There was one more reason why the trip to the Cancer Center was so important.

“Part of the reason for choosing cancer care packages as a service is that my mom, Cindy Carson, passed away from cancer when I was 14,” continued Diana. “I know how much something like this would have helped while she was there for chemo.

“It was good for the kids to see how fortunate they were. This was something that was very close to my heart. They never got a chance to meet her, but they were able to see a little of what she went through.

“It will be 20 years on Jan. 7 since she passed away. It was a great tribute for her too.”

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