ROYAL OAK — Cancer has touched a lot of people in one way or another, but it’s the reactions of a few that are often most memorable.
Resident Bella Riegel-Green, 11, recently donated 110 pillowcases to ConKerr Cancer’s A Case for Smiles program, which collects donated pillowcases of the brightly colored variety and gives them to children who are undergoing cancer treatment in an effort to brighten their day.
“They’re not ordinary pillowcases. They’re bright and playful,” said Sue Ellen Kosmas, metro Detroit regional coordinator for ConKerr Cancer. “I just think it’s wonderful what this young lady did for those without their health.”
Kosmas said the metro Detroit chapter has donated more than 19,000 pillowcases to children at the Ronald McDonald House, Camp Kesem, Children’s Hospital of Michigan, St. John Hospital in Detroit and Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak over the past four and a half years. Kosmas said her chapter collects 5,000 pillowcases per year, and 300-500 are sent to hospitals each month.
“I may have volunteers that I never see that just send me pillow cases,” Kosmas said. “We never know if it’s a one-time donation or someone who continually supports us. They don’t have to make contact with me to volunteer.”
Although just donated Oct. 2, Riegel-Green’s effort took place primarily during summer 2011 — after finishing fourth-grade — as part of a Girl Scout Troop 42356 project.
“When we started the project, there were four other girls in the troop and I was troop leader,” said mother Kelly Riegel-Green. “When everyone else kind of dropped out of the troop, she said we still have this troop goal. She said, ‘I want to do this.’ Little by little, we just did it. We just kind of kept going.”
Kosmas said the average cost to make a pillowcase is $9.50.
“That’s why, to me, this is really impressive,” Kosmas said. “This young girl raised the money. As well as making all the pillow cases, she raised the money for the fabric.”
The Riegel-Greens said much of the fabric was either donated or excess material that Kelly had from previous projects.
“We asked for a bunch of donations for the fabric and sewed them on my mom’s sewing machine,” said Bella Riegel-Green, now a sixth-grader at Royal Oak Middle School. “A friend of mine died due to cancer and I wanted to stop cancer from killing everyone — at least the childhood kind.”
That friend was Clawson resident and former Riegel-Green neighbor MacKenzie Smith, who died in February 2008 at age 6 after a two-year battle with Wilms tumor, a form of kidney cancer.
Bella and MacKenzie used to play together when they lived three houses apart from one another in Clawson. Both children found common ground in being the same age and having twin siblings.
“The pillowcases were actually donated in MacKenzie’s honor,” Kelly Riegel-Green said. “All of the pillowcases have to be washed and stuffed in a Ziploc (bag).”
After the rest of the troop dropped out of the bronze star achievement project, Bella took it upon herself to meet the 100 pillowcase goal, even when given the option to stop after completing her 30 hours of work, which resulted in roughly a quarter of the final tally.
“She said, ‘I just do what everybody should do,’” Kelly Riegel-Green said.
Volunteers like Bella allowed the local ConKerr Cancer chapter — the only other two Michigan chapters are in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids — to achieve the Miles of Pillow Case Smiles annual September goal of collecting 2,400 pillowcases, which is the equivalent of a mile. Nationally, ConKerr Cancer is still tallying toward its 44,000 goal, which is equivalent to one per child treated for cancer in the U.S. per year. The organization collected 46,000 in 2011.
“Our volunteers went above and beyond this year,” Kosmas said. “A lot of times people want to donate, but don’t sew. We take in monetary donations and children’s novelty fabric. We look for brightly colored children’s novelty fabric in cotton.”
For more information on the group, visit www.conkerrcancer.org or email Kosmas at firstname.lastname@example.org.