Andrew's Helpful Hands to host seventh Gold Ribbon Holiday Reception
Marlborough – An actor from "The Sopranos," Frank Santrelli, has teamed up with the local fund-raising foundation Andrew's Helpful Hands to raise money at the seventh annual Gold Ribbon Holiday Reception, hosted at the Embassy Suites in Marlborough. The semi-formal reception will be held Friday Dec. 7 from 7 p.m. to midnight and will feature a silent auction, dinner buffet, door prizes, dancing and an opportunity to donate to a heartwarming cause.
The founder of Andrew's Helpful Hands, John Sousa, said he established the foundation while his nephew Andrew Swenson was undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Initially, Sousa's fund-raising efforts were intended to defer some of the financial strain that Sousa's sister and brother in-law, Zenaide (Zee) and John Swenson, were incurring during Andrew's five-year battle with leukemia.
Sousa said having a foundation to help other children's families was Andrew's idea.
"Uncle John, how come we can't do this for my friends?" Andrew asked, according to Sousa.
That prompted the foundation's focus on helping others.
During Andrew's sevenmonth hospital stay, both he and his mother found themselves looking after other children whose parents were not financially in the position to be with their children. Andrew would try to brighten up the spirits of other patients and family members by sharing gifts that he received from the community.
To stay with Andrew during his hospital stay, Zee closed her business and John Swenson was laid off from his job.
"If it was not for my brother and his fund-raising, I would have lost my house," Zee said.
This year's event marks the fifth anniversary of Andrew's death, Zee explained.
All of the proceeds from the event will go directly to the nonprofit foundation, which is dedicated to helping families of children going through bone marrow transplants. Because of the lengthy hospitalization, which can run from 45 days through eight months, many children endure the side effects of the treatment alone.
"As an adult it is horrifying to see [the side effects] … The little ones do not know what is happening. You have to be an advocate … You have to be there," Zee said. "We saw families literally drop children off and not come back because they lived to far away, needed to work or had to take care of other children."
The main goal of the foundation is to sponsor at least two families a year in Massachusetts whose children are undergoing bone marrow transplants. Zee explained that the foundation takes over the payment of the mortgage, utilities and car payment for six months to a year.
"On average we spend about $25,000 on a family," Zee said.
After living through the nightmare of trying to remember to pay the phone bill during Andrew's treatment, Zee does for other families what she needed.
"What we do is give people the much-needed time with their children," she said, "because unfortunately, it is often the end."
Zee also said that the members of the foundation thank the community for its continuing support and hope that they will once again have a full house at the Gold Ribbon Reception, which she promised would include many fun activities.
For more information or for tickets, visit www.andrewshelpfulhands. com or call John Sousa at 508-380-1797 or Zee Swenson at 978-375-3704.
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