07/17/11 — The little shop of hope

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The little shop of hope

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on July 17, 2011 12:14 AM

A cancer battle is not just about a diagnosis and medications, Helen Harwood says.

Sometimes the greatest battle is keeping up your spirit as you wage war against the disease -- and finding the resources you need, she adds.

And that is where the new Pennies From Angels cancer shop comes in.

Mrs. Harwood said she founded the shop not just to offer Wayne County's cancer patients supplies such as clothing, wigs and makeup, but also to offer them a little hope as well.

Sponsored by Pennies From Angels, a nonprofit organization, the cancer shop is stocked full of items that patients can get for free, Mrs. Harwood said.

"I was trying to focus on giving people hope, because that's one thing that people, especially cancer patients look for," she said. "When they walk into the shop, I want them to see brightness, cheerfulness and hope."

Although the shop is actually a plain metal utility building, Mrs. Harwood furnished it in whimsical, bright colors to help lift shoppers' spirits.

But the most important things in the cancer shop are items that patients can pick up, like wigs, bras and prostheses.

Others in need can get clothing for men, women and children, which is all new. There are also scarves, hats, makeup, soap, deodorant and even laundry detergent.

"If it's something a patient has to have and the cancer shop doesn't have it, I can go to Pennies From Angels and get it," Mrs. Harwood said. "That includes help with medications, rent, utilities, food and more."

Mrs. Harwood said that most people don't realize what cancer patients go through and sometimes how much a little help goes a long way.

"I'm working with a 51-year-old man right now who has just been diagnosed with brain cancer," she said. "He was working and the company closed down so he lost his job. He went on unemployment. After being diagnosed with brain cancer, he can't go back to work so he can't even look for a job, and he lost his unemployment.

"His wife is on unemployment and right now that's the only income they have coming in. And he has no insurance. Right now he's in need of pain medicine."

Not only is Mrs. Harwood working with the man to get his medication, but she's also referring him to other resources that might be able to help with other needs until his application for Medicaid has been approved, which Mrs. Harwood said takes a while.

The Harwoods have had countless successes in the past through Pennies From Angels.

"There were people that we helped, who were in the process of being evicted from their home at Christmas time," Harwood said. "We were able to ensure that they spent the holidays in their home. And we also helped them with a Christmas tree and gifts for their children. The man was suffering from a terminal brain tumor.

"That was about seven years ago and that man is still alive today. I think all they needed was a helping hand up."

Harwood said he remembers hundreds of times when Pennies From Angels has helped someone and he has wondered where the resources would come from.

And sometimes, the Harwoods have had people for whom they haven't been able to do as much as they would like to.

"But sometimes, just a little means a lot to a cancer patient," Harwood said.

"Sometimes it's just knowing somebody cares," Mrs. Harwood said.

The stories can be quite sad, the Harwoods said -- like the migrant worker in his 20s who severed several nerves in his spinal column and was paralyzed from the waist down.

"We helped his family with some food at Thanksgiving," Harwood said. "But one of his greatest needs was a wheelchair that had arms that would slide down so he could move from the wheelchair to the couch.

"We found a wheelchair that had the arms that slid down."

There was not much money in the Pennies From Angels fund at that time, but the Harwoods talked the seller into coming way down on the price.

"That was on Friday," Harwood said. "By Sunday, circumstances changed and the fund got back every single penny it spent on the wheelchair. That just doesn't happen on its own."

Because of her work as the patient advocate at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center before recently retiring, Mrs. Harwood can steer a patient in need to a multitude of resources in the community.

The Pennies From Angels cancer shop is located in Black Creek.

If a patient is too sick to go to the cancer shop or has no ride, the Harwoods will make arrangements to get the items from the shop to the patient.

The shop will take donations of new items from individuals and businesses.

Anyone wanting to donate items may call the cancer shop at 1-252-246-0620.

Pennies From Angels will take monetary donations of any amount. Contributions may be sent to Pennies From Angels, P.O. Box 511, Black Creek, N.C., 27813.

"We're not a large organization," Harwood said, "but we're a community organization."