12-year-old Grasonville girl collects, donates gift bags to kids with cancer
Assistant Community Editor
July 13, 2006

Assistant Community Editor
July 13, 2006

12-year-old Grasonville girl collects, donates
 gift bags to kids with cancer

GRASONVILLE — Shelby McKnew, 12, of Grasonville was only 5 years old when her cousin Nick, one year older, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma.

“I didn’t understand what was going on,” she said. “I just knew he was sick.”

Nick, formerly of Edgewater, was treated for two years at Washington’s Children’s Hospital and Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, N.C. While visiting, Shelby got to see first hand how scary and lonely an extended hospital stay can be for children.

Nick has now been in remission for five years, but Shelby and Nick are now working to help children who are still suffering from cancer. Remembering what it was like to be or have a loved one in the hospital gives the kids special understanding of how to help. Informally, they started collecting items for gift bags for sick children in 2001.

Since then the project has grown, and the two cousins named their foundation The Nickelby Project, from a fusion of Nick’s and Shelby’s names. Currently family-run, the foundation recently received non-profit status, and donations are tax-deductible. Every year on Make a Difference Day in October, Nick visits hospitals in North Carolina as Shelby visits them in the Maryland region to hand out the gift bags, which they collect throughout the year. Nick still visits Washington’s Children’s Hospital in D.C., where the nurses and doctors remember him.

“People find hope in Nick,” said Shelby’s mom, Sheila, “because he was in that position, and look at him now — with a full head of hair and able to talk and hug other kids.”

Shelby said she enjoys visiting with other patients and parents and showing her support.

“Just to know there is someone out caring for them — it means a whole lot to the kids and the parents,” said Shelby.

Getting the foundation off the ground has been a hard task. Recently, charities helping Katrina and other natural disaster victims have taken priority. Items are being donated, but sometimes only if the foundation pays the shipping. Items are constantly needed to fill the 250 bags given by the foundation to each hospital visited. Trying to find items that interest all age groups, including teenagers, can also be a challenge.

All gifts are appreciated, even seemingly impractical ones like a basketball. A child sick in bed may not be able to use a basketball, but it can give him or her hope that one day they will be outside using it, said Sheila. Larger donations or items can be raffled off to raise money for more gifts.

The foundation has also seen success. Besides providing more than 1,000 gift bags in its duration, in its first year the foundation was chosen by the Paul Newman Foundation for a $10,000 donation. Nick donated his half of the award to a camp for kids with cancer, as Shelby donated her half to the hospital that treated Nick.

Families of cancer patients also appreciate the donations given by The Nickelby Foundation. Parents staying for an extended or an unpredicted stay are in need of toiletries, said Shelby, and appreciate the small bottles of shampoo or toothpaste.

Another item Sheila said is widely needed are disposable cameras. Scrapbook products and pictures encourage kids to remember happier times and personal triumphs.

As short-term goals continue to be the need for gift bag donations, the foundation hopes to one day have scholarships for childhood cancer survivors or students pursuing pediatric oncology.

The Nickelby Project accepts any and all forms of donations. Since donated items are going to cancer patients, items must be new and clean. To donate, make a check out to the Nickelby Project or send items to 112 Pine Drive Grasonville, MD 21638 or 289 Reeder Branch Drive, Clayton, N.C. 27520. For more information, go to www. NickelbyProject. org.