Optimists bring hope to children with cancer

Bears, ultra-soft and fluffy in cheerful colors like canary yellow and piglet pink, will be doing their part to bring smiles and comfort children with cancer at The Ronald McDonald House and Rady's Children's Hospital. The bears are part of the Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club's Childhood Cancer Campaign, an idea conceived by long-time member Audrey Eller. The cheerful bears come in an activity bag filled with ways to keep kids busy in the hospital and were first handed out in April. A second distribution of bears is scheduled for Sept. 13.

While the Optimists have been fulfilling wish lists at the Ronald McDonald House for the last 19 years, the bear project is a new one. Eller pitched the idea to the Optimists and they were sold, recruiting Sandy Renner and Tim Edwards to serve on her committee.

Their first delivery was so well received they decided to go for it again. This time instead of a tote bag, the kids will be getting miniature backpacks. Eller is hoping that this is a project that will extend past September.

"We want to keep raising funds to keep this project going," said Eller. "We've got to keep the funding coming in to keep doing this."

Eller has been an Optimist for 20 years, her husband Dave a member for 25 years.

"I joined the Optimists because of the work they do with the children in the community," said Eller. "There's so many things that they do that people are not aware of. They are a group of dedicated, hard-working people."

The dedicated hard work of the Optimists on the Childhood Cancer Campaign was enough to get the attention of Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian, who gave the group a proclamation in June and named the month cancer awareness month.

Each backpack comes with a mix of six items in addition to the teddy bear; Eller has a great time finding fun new items to go in the bags. There are hand puppets, disposable cameras, photo albums, card games, puzzles; mobiles kids can make to bring cheer to their rooms and journals. The journals the hospital especially liked because it gives children a chance to write about their experience and express what they are feeling.

The younger children, ages 2-3 or younger, receive a smaller version of the bear. As the Optimists and Eller have sadly discovered, cancer spares no one. A baby as young as eleven months old is even living at the house, bravely taking her first steps down the hallway.

"It is terribly sad," said Eller. "If we can just bring a smile to their faces and bring them some pleasure, that's what it's all about."

Eller has lined up four local Girl Scout troops to help pack the bags. Del Mar Troop 1119 will go first, packing backpacks at Rady's on Sept. 13. The Junior Girl Scout troop is made up of nine Sage Canyon fifth graders.

"It's an opportunity for our girls to extend a hand to the Optimists," said Lisa Mauer, troop leader. "I'm sure they will love it."

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