One Brewster woman is making the lives of local chemotherapy patients better, one bag at a time. Her name is Melissa Johnson, and her mission to ease the stress of chemo patients through the gift of Chemo Comfort Bags — sponsored totes filled with heartwarming amenities like soft blankets, lotion, candy, water, and puzzles — has led to plenty of smiles and surprising growth for the operation.
The bags are purchased by sponsors through tote-seller Thirty-One Gifts, where Johnson works as a director. She uses 100% of her commission from that purchase to order fillers and creature comforts to help chemo patients feel at ease and occupied during their sessions. Johnson doesn’t include any of her business information in the bags in order to avoid seeming like she’s promoting her company. Instead, she adds a card with the name of the bag’s sponsor that explains “that this bag is filled with love from people in the community.” She also includes an email address for patients to contact her or thank her for the bag.
“I’ve had people actually email me and pour their heart out on the toughest day they’ve had, that to be given this bag, for free, and knowing that a complete stranger thought about them. It really seems to lift their spirits,” says Johnson.
The idea came to Johnson when her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer four years ago. While he underwent chemotherapy, Melissa decided to use her position at Thirty-One to “do something good and give back.”
The first year Johnson had 26 bags sponsored. “My grandfather loved the bag,” she says. “He expressed how much he loved the bag and how it was nice to have something all ready to bring to his sessions. And just that people in the community and beyond were thinking of people like himself who were going through a tough time.”
Johnson with Chemo Comfort bags packed in her car.
The following year, Johnson’s output doubled to 54 sponsored bags. The year after that was even more incredible, with a total of 124 bags. This year, Johnson packed nearly 170 bags. To spread awareness, she held an event inviting any of her sponsors, as well as the local Girl Scouts, to help fill the bags and decorate cards. Some volunteers even offered to help deliver bags to chemo centers in Orange, Dutchess, and Putnam counties.
If you’d like to get involved or help Johnson sponsor a bag, contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and mention Chemo Comfort Bags.