FRASER — People with cancer had to maneuver past another major hurdle this past year when COVID-19 became prevalent and further compromised immune systems.
In response, New Day Foundation for Families began enlisting volunteers last April to shop for and deliver groceries to local families that have members who are battling cancer.
Headquartered in Rochester Hills, the organization provides financial and emotional assistance for cancer patients in active treatment. That includes paying living expenses, using technology to predict potential financial burdens as it relates to insurance and out-of-pocket medical costs, and collaborating with counselors, planners, and others to lift the emotional burden.
“Families facing cancer have been hit hard during the pandemic,” said Gina Kell Spehn, co-founder and president of New Day Foundation for Families, in a statement. “All of us at New Day are addressing both the emotional and financial impact of COVID-19 on our community this year. From the loss of income and delayed treatment to food instability and increased risk of contracting the disease, our families are facing more obstacles than ever before.”
Last year’s shopping volunteer venture began with 18 volunteers, building to its current total of approximately 131 volunteers that helped serve around 150 families to date.
One of those volunteers is Michelle Chmelko, 51, of Fraser. Chmelko, a CPA and owner of the accounting firm Heemer, Klein & Company, discovered New Day when she attended a fundraiser in the summer of 2011.
Spehn spoke at that fundraiser, seeking a volunteer who could conduct bookkeeping for the organization. Chmelko volunteered that day and has been helping ever since, donating her professional services and hosting various fundraisers.
In 2016, she participated in the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio, in memory of her daughter, Jenna, and Spehn’s son, Sam — the latter of whom was undergoing cancer treatment at that time.
Jenna died in December 2000, at the age of 18 months, due to sepsis, pneumonia, and several other conditions resulting from a premature delivery. Two years later, Chmelko’s mother died from lung cancer.
The half-marathon took place on what would have been Jenna’s 17th birthday.
“After my daughter and mother passed, I was driven to help others as a way to honor their memories,” said Chmelko, a cancer survivor herself. “Helping other families with cancer, and helping other families with sick children, allowed me to focus my attention on something other than grief and loss.”
As of Jan. 7, New Day’s grocery delivery program had delivered 18,954 meals to a total of 469 family members, with two meals served daily. Volunteers had made deliveries 335 times.
“I think that COVID has resulted in much downtime for many individuals,” Chmelko said. “I believe that many have viewed programs, such as the grocery delivery program, as a way to stay active outside of the home while offering assistance to those in need.
“New Day families experience great financial hardship as a result of their diagnosis and treatment. Participating in programs is a simple way to help those families who need to take special precautions during the pandemic. This program has provided much-needed relief to many families.”
Chmelko, who has served on New Day’s advisory board for many years, said volunteering for the organization will always remain a priority to her.
“As long as they continue to assist families fighting cancer, I will continue to volunteer my time,” she said.
For more information on New Day or to volunteer, visit www.foundationforfamilies.org.