One small Gonzaga club is still passionately working toward brightening the lives of local children battling cancer and their families despite the ongoing pandemic.
The Gonzaga University Pinky Swear Ambassadors on Campus for Kids with Cancer (PACK) is a campus crew within the national Pinky Swear Foundation. The GU crew was formerly part of the Love Your Melon (LYM) organization but has been transitioning to a PACK program since LYM discontinued its campus crews.
The transition has been relatively smooth given the similarities between the two foundations.
“Pinky Swear has a very similar mission statement. They're all about spreading awareness of pediatric oncology and supporting the children and families emotionally, financially, kind of the same gist as Love Your Melon,” said senior crew president Bella Williams.
Pinky Swear had been searching for ways to partner with college campuses, and so when the opportunity arose, the foundation reached out to former LYM campus leaders hoping to continue to raise awareness and support for children and families battling cancer.
Although Pinky Swear is continuing to release guidelines and goals for campus crews, the GU crew is finding its footing and looking for ways to make an impact this semester.
“It's a little tough with COVID obviously to find service projects. But we do a lot of virtual things. For example, right now we're making Valentine's day cards for kids at the hospitals in the oncology unit,” said junior co-vice president Madison Morgan.
The GU PACK is also eagerly anticipating its return to local venues where they meet with children and families battling cancer. In the past, as LYM, the crew has visited Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital to give families blankets, cards and personal hygiene supplies and to spend time with kids and families.
“What we try to do now is just meet and, for instance, we gather blankets and a couple other fun things that we hope to eventually drop off at the hospital to help kids who are battling cancer right now,” said senior club treasurer Alex Halstead.
Club members’ most meaningful experiences are usually direct interactions with local children and families.
“Through [LYM], I think making meals for Ronald McDonald House was definitely the coolest experience I had," Morgan said. "I think it was just so cool to see how grateful the families were and how awesome Ronald McDonald is as an organization, because they really do so much for families with kids that are sick."
Halstead also believes that the face-to-face interaction with sick children and their families is what makes the club so special.
“I just like seeing people happy and not having to worry about that aspect of their life right now,” Halstead said.
One advantage of the crew’s switch from LYM to PACK is that the crew is now able to handle money and do more fundraising projects. While LYM put more emphasis on raising awareness and promoting programs like the “Be the Match” bone marrow drive, Pinky Swear highlights the importance of collecting money to directly support local families.
The crew’s main fundraising event for this spring is their “It Takes Two” fundraiser.
"They're highlighting micro-donations, so instead of donating $150, you're donating like $2,” Williams said.
Fundraisers that encourage small donations are particularly effective on college campuses, and the club is hopeful to get lots of little contributions from GU students to directly support the GU PACK as they keep working to connect with local families.
“We know everyone's college students,” Williams said. “People aren't going to be going out here and donating hundreds.”
The crew’s goals for this semester include growing the club’s size and continuing to spread awareness about pediatric cancer.
“Obviously people know that cancer exists," Halstead said. "And obviously it's a big deal, there's a whole bunch of things like Cancer Awareness Month and all that stuff. But for families and kids, it's drastically more difficult."
In terms of club size, Pinky Swear has eliminated the crew cap size formerly imposed by LYM. The crew recently participated in GU’s virtual club fair and has begun actively recruiting new members who are passionate about helping local children battling cancer and their families. With 14 seniors and one junior in the club right now, the group needs more involvement from GU students.
The current crew believes that there are many reasons for students to get involved in PACK, even during a pandemic.
“I really do think it's a great way to get involved," Morgan said. "And right now, we have a lot of events even despite COVID. So, I think it really is rewarding, especially in a time like this, to be able to make that sort of impact. I know sometimes people feel a little bit helpless, and like it's really hard to get community service hours, but this is a really great way to do that. You can still socially distance and stuff, but you're still making an impact.”