HANCOCK - Jen Sebbas, a seven year breast cancer survivor, was brainstorming ways to give back to the community last Christmas and developed the idea for 'The Christmas Project.'
"We always helped a family at Christmas and it was something I wanted to pass on (to my children)," Sebbas said. "I posted on Facebook as my status, 'would anyone like to help a family with me this year?'"
Sebbas had such a great response, she created a private group on Facebook called 'The Christmas Project,' where there are currently 100 members.
Ashley Curtis/Daily Mining Gazette
Toys collected by members of ‘The Christmas Project,’ a group started by Jenn Sebbas, will be gifted to the Ana Olsson and Mchalie Walter families. Olsson is receiving radiation treatment for a rare brain tumor in Houston, Texas, while Walter is undergoing treatment for leukemia at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Each year prior to deciding which family in the community to help, Sebbas asks for help from the group.
"Last year, we helped three families and it was bigger than I ever thought," she said. "Everyone knows someone, everyone is struggling."
This year, the group overwhelmingly selected the Ana Olsson and Mchalie Walter families, who will both be out of town this Christmas receiving treatment.
Ana is the daughter of Cathy and Steph Olsson from Hancock, who will be in Houston, Texas over the holidays. The nearly 4-year-old girl was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor in October and began her journey at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. According to her CaringBridge site, Ana has been a patient at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in Texas since late November receiving radiation treatment that is meant to be less invasive for young children.
Mchalie, diagnosed with leukemia in November, will be with her family at the University of Michigan for treatments through January. She is the daughter of Royale and Ryan Walter of Calumet.
"This year I had a real personal contact. It was easy to choose the family," Sebbas said.
Olsson was in the daycare Sebbas runs out of her home for three years and Royale Walter, Mchalie's mom, helped do a Zumbathon fundraiser for Sebbas' sister, who is also battling breast cancer.
"Finally after me going through breast cancer myself and watching my sister go through it and being on the receiving end for so long, it's finally a way to give back, but I never expected this," Sebbas said.
Around Thanksgiving, Sebbas contacted each of the families privately to get a wish list, specifically for Mchalie, Ana and Kinzli, Ana's younger sister. She asked the families to put everything they can think of on the list because with a large group to help, nothing is too much.
"Although (the girls have) never met, they're both die-hard Disney princess junkies and it just fast became the theme," she said. "It's a Disney Christmas."
Sebbas has been collecting with others in 'The Christmas Project' since Thanksgiving and is looking forward to having the gifts ready for the girls once they return home in January.
"There's still time to collect. At this point, the gifts are covered, but what I am putting together are prepaid Visa cards to help offset costs," she said. "We're up to close to $200 per family."
Sebbas will also take wrapping paper and tape donations so the gifts can be wrapped before the families get back to the area following treatment.
Various other organizations and schools have held fundraisers for the girls.
Earlier in the month, Gordon G. Barkell Elementary School students donated $2 to throw cream pies at their teachers and principal. The money raised went to the Walter family. The Rozsa Center for Performing Arts will hold a benefit bake sale and silent auction in conjunction with the Rozsa Family Christmas Celebration which will also include dancing and a special screening of Walt Disney's "Mickey's Christmas Carol" tonight from 7 to 10 p.m. Proceeds from the celebration will be donated to the Olsson family.
Besides donations for 'The Christmas Project' and in conjunction with other fundraisers, Sebbas has organized a T-shirt sale that will run until Christmas day.
"The T-shirts are $18 and about $14 of that goes back to the families," she said.
'Princess Warriors: Ana's Gifts and Prayers for Mchalie' is the theme for the shirts which also feature a tiara.
"The gifts are all princess (themed), so that's where we came up with the Princess Warriors," Sebbas said. "I do suspect another T-shirt sale after the holidays like in the beginning of January if you happen to miss the first order."
The shirts can be ordered by contacting Sebbas directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, 370-6997 or online at www.eventbrite.com/event/5033463224/efbnen. Local residents interested in ordering T-shirts online should enter 'noshipping' in the promo code box and Sebbas will make sure the T-shirts are delivered.
If ordering via email, Sebbas requests that you include name, shirt size(s), address, phone number, email and debit or credit card information with the expiration date.
Students in the Hancock Public Schools have brought home order forms for the shirts.
"I would love nothing more than for the community to go crazy with the T-shirts because it's visual," she said. "You can see where the support is coming from and this is a huge fundraiser for the families."