Local growers partner with Country Grocer to help kids in need

Bouquet and tree sales to help kids with special needs

As he jumps and climbs over his father with a full head of hair, it’s not obvious that Massimo DeSandoli has a year of chemotherapy to go. Massimo, now six, was at BC Children’s Hospital being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, so his parents were not working and struggling to care for Massimo’s brother and newborn daughter at the same time.

The family is grateful to the Help Fill A Dream Foundation, which provided a monthly donation to help his parents pay for extra costs like the frequent trips to Vancouver. Between now and Dec. 16, $3 from a special Eurosa Farms bouquet and $2 from every Christmas tree grown by Wintergreen Tree Farm sold at Country Grocer will go towards helping children like Massimo and their families.

The Help Fill A Dream Foundation helps families on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and since its founding in 1986, has helped over 2200 local families. They organize trips to places like Disneyland and grant wishes if children have them, but unlike other similar charities they also provide direct financial assistance.

DeSandoli is now in Grade 1, and able to attend school more regularly now that his chemotherapy is less intense. But he still takes prednisone, an immunosuppressant, which he takes for five days each month in addition to other drugs. His mother said that regimen affects his bones and leaves him cranky and emotional for days afterwards.

His parents are constantly concerned about potentially unvaccinated classmates, which can threaten Massimo’s health. They have to go to the emergency room each time Massimo gets a fever to ensure it is not life-threatening.

“Something to remind the general public is that children like Massimo are immunocompromised. They cannot be vaccinated, they can’t have regular things that we can, so it’s a real issue for us sometimes in terms of setting up playdates. If we don’t know about kids who are not vaccinated, it’s potentially…” She trails off.

“We live in fear on a regular basis but we can’t put him in a bubble,” said Marianna.

The foundation has also helped Ethan Shannon, who is turning four next week, by helping his parents May and Scott purchase a wheelchair van. Ethan, who has nemaline myopathy, has weak muscles that affect his ability to move, breathe and swallow, but his power chair has given him the independence to go where he wants the way his peers can, and May said his confidence has grown significantly. The wheelchair van was the next step, as transferring him back and forth into a car seat became difficult and dangerous.

“We were blown away by how much they were able to donate to us. It was very generous,” said May.

“For him it’s his legs, it’s his way to explore,” said Scott. “Behind all the medical stuff he’s still a three-year old who loves to run around and cause trouble. And now we can take it with us on the go to appointments, recreation, Beacon Hill Park, it’s just opened a whole new world for us,” said Scott.

At Eurosa Farms on Thursday, Ethan was maneuvering his power chair between rows of flowers that are destined for the bouquet, made from white alstroemeria, green chrysanthemums, yellow gerberas, leatherleaf, white roses and salal.

Stephen Glover, a floral designer for 40 years, sells the bouquets at Country Grocer. He put them out Thursday at noon, and “in the first hour we sold three right away.”

“Customers told me, ‘wow, they’re bright, they’re cheery, they’re just great for a day that’s starting to cloud over,’” said Glover.

“Everybody’s enthusiastic and passionate about this campaign, but it allows us to continue to help families in the community not just in this season but throughout the year,” said Craig Smith, executive director with Help Fill A Dream.

Ryan Worsfold, an owner of Eurosa Farms, partnered with Country Grocer seven years ago, and is happy to be a part of it. The farm plan the bouquets three months in advance, and they work with Country Grocer to come up with two varieties for the campaign, the latter bouquet being Christmas-themed.

“I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of the kids over the years and when you get to meet the kids and their families you realize what a fantastic impact it is on these people’s lives. We couldn’t be happier to be involved,” said Worsfold.

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