GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jessica Wertsch knows what it's like to watch a loved one fight cancer. She remembers her grandmother battling breast cancer before passing away when Werstch was 8 years old.
Wertsch told FOX 17 that her loss, in part, inspired the idea to create chemo bags to give away to patients at Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids.
She was also inspired after seeing someone doing something similar when she signed on to become a Thirty-One gifts consultant.
"I called my mom, and I'm like, 'can we do this? Can this happen? And she's like, 'let's go for it'", Werstch explained. "My mom works (at Lacks), so I knew that she could help me, and she did."
The Thirty-One bags are bought and donated by friends, family, and members of the community. Werstch then stuffs them full of items to comfort patients and keep them busy during treatment.
"Crossword puzzles, and cards and pens and things they might need when they're just sitting there for hours," explained her mother Joni Hallberg. "When you're having the chemo treatments, like you can be cold, so that's why the blanket."
Hallberg is a surgical tech, who makes sure the bags are always stocked and ready to go.
"Every day I'm checking, we have a certain place we put them and I'm checking the schedule to make sure there's enough. That's my job," she said. "Of course they're overwhelmed. They don't really know what they're going to need when they're having chemo, but you know just to get a nice bag with stuff in it as a gift, they love it."
After two and a half years, Wertsch said more than 200 bags have been given away.
"Everybody at Lacks Cancer Center on the surgery floor, everybody that has a port put in, gets a bag and nobody was missed last year, nobody," said Werstch. "I think about my grandma constantly, I just won't stop."
Werstch never gets to meet the people on the receiving end, but knows she's making a difference.
"It's not just a bag," she said. "It really is a bag of love, because each item has been touched by somebody. You may not know the person, but that person is going to smile the day they get that bag."
Hallberg added "It's just grown, like it's amazing. We will continue to do it as long as there's people out there willing to help us with it, because people really appreciate it. Anything to help them, put a little cheer in their life going through chemo."
To learn more about Wertsch's efforts, visit her Facebook page.
As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Wertsch is receiving a $300 prize.