St. Helens city councilor finds comfort in nonprofit cancer org
For the first time in recent memory, Ginny Carlson looked forward to coming home.
After a weekend day out around town with her two kids, Carlson returned to her house to find it clean, organized and inviting. She couldn't remember the last time she felt that way in her own home.
Carlson has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that develops in the body's white blood cells.
The single mother spends most of her time caring for her two children, working with developmentally disabled people through Riverside Training Center, volunteering with community organizations and serving on the St. Helens City Council, all while dealing with her illness.
Earlier that day, a crew of a dozen volunteers with Michelle's Love, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping single mothers battling cancer, spent the better part of their summer Sunday cleaning the St. Helens woman's home.
When she finally settled in, Carlson sent a text message to Andy McCandless, director and founder of Michelle's Love.
"I haven't wanted to be home in a long time," Carlson admitted to McCandless. "Now I never want to leave it and I have not sat in my living room and enjoyed my kids in over a year."
That night, Carlson cooked dinner with her kids and enjoyed "magic time," as she called the simple quality time with her family.
With the help of Michelle's Love, Carlson got her home cleaned for three hours, at no cost, and was given help with living expenses.
It's standard procedure for McCandless and her organization.
"Typically, the moms that we help, they want to keep their homes clean, but they're so sick and exhausted and going through treatment, so that part slips," McCandless explains. "You cannot get better if you're not in an environment that you love."
Carlson admits she was reluctant to accept help at first.
"It was weird to take volunteer help, because I'm used to giving it," Carlson said Wednesday. "Her organization went a long way to restoring my faith in my community and humanity."
Carlson's family is one of five currently being helped by Michelle's Love. The Columbia County-based nonprofit was started by McCandless in 2012 after she lost her best friend, Michelle, to cancer. With the help of volunteers, fundraising and steady sponsors, the organization serves single mothers in Columbia and Multnomah counties who have any type of cancer.
Michelle's Love operates with funds from two major fundraisers each year — a benefit run in October and a charity dinner in February — along with the help of sponsors who cover administrative costs.
Additionally, McCandless asks supporters to link Michelle's Love to their Fred Meyer Community Rewards card, which generates money for the organization at no cost to the shopper.
Over the past two years, McCandless has also found support in small businesses like the Chevron gas station in Scappoose, Scappoose Bagel, and Jackpot Market, which have each set out donation jars for the organization, netting roughly $70 a month. It's a big deal for the small operation.
"We pay bills," McCandless says matter of factly about the families she helps. "The financial aspect is huge."
McCandless is Michelle's Love's only employee. She gets $750 a month, which is the only overhead labor cost.
"One thing that's so hard is you feel overwhelmed," McCandless admits, recalling the recent deaths of two of the mothers served by Michelle's Love. "You cant save the world, but I take it one day at a time. If we can provide them a clean home and pay their bills, and they don't really need anything else, they can concentrate on feeling better."