When their only daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, the world seemed to stop for Rob and Vicki Amand. All they could think about was how to ensure three-and-half-year-old Reagen got well—and how they would survive the worst ordeal in a parent’s life.
“You don’t really have a sense of emergency until something like this happens,” Rob recalls. “Then you’re thrust into trauma you didn’t know existed.”
As they headed to the hospital for chemotherapy, Vicki Amand’s boss gave them a large duffel bag that they filled with necessities: hats to cover unwashed hair, extra socks to keep warm in the cold hospital, a large soft blanket, medicine and snacks. It was their survival kit through a two and a half year chemotherapy protocol. After Reagen went into remission, the Amands threw that bag into a corner, hoping never to have to open it again. “We couldn’t throw it away,” Rob says.
But 20 months later, they needed it again. Reagen had relapsed. The Amands faced a scary truth: The more someone relapses, the higher the risk for death and secondary cancers. “We thought we were good,” Rob says. “You can do everything right and you don’t have control.”
The second time around was scarier for Reagen and her family. But they realized, too, that they were lucky: They had friends and family to support them. Not everyone in the hospital with them could say the same thing. The Amands wanted desperately to keep other kids from suffering from the horrible disease. “But we knew we weren’t big enough for that,” Rob says.
Instead, in April 2005 they founded Adopt A Pig, a nonprofit that provides sick children with art therapy and their families with care packages. Through the program, the Amands send white ceramic piggy banks to local hospitals, where they are decorated by sick children. They then sell the decorated piggy banks to “sponsors” for a $25 donation. Sponsors take the piggy bank home, where friends and family fill it with cash donations. When the piggy banks are full, sponsors count the change, and send a check to Adopt A Pig.
Donations to Adopt A Pig go toward buying more piggy banks, and toward $1,500 care packages, which include an iPad, gift cards to stores and restaurants, hygiene products, hats, and socks. So far, the organization has given away more than 175 Coping Kits since 2011 and raised more than $350,000 through contributions and from more than 30 fundraisers.
The idea started with one piggy bank given to Regean by the Child Life Program at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. “They said they don’t usually get good arts and crafts like that,” Rob says. “That piggy bank sat in my office for a year before we bought more and took them to the hospital.”
Rob runs a branding agency, Catalyst Communications; Vicki is a CPA. They run the nonprofit out of their house virtually by themselves. Vicki buys items for and packs the Coping Kits, usually in the living room while catching up on her favorite shows. The Coping Kits are delivered to several area hospitals within seven days of a diagnosis. “We try to raise funds for things we would want for our own kids,” Rob says. “Then Vicki packs it like a mom would pack it.”
The Amands are lucky: Reagen survived, and is now a thriving 13-year-old who has tried to put cancer behind her. The program is a personal mission for Rob and Vicki, but their recipients would never know it.
“Cancer is a very private experience for the family and for their close friends and family and support groups,” Rob says. “We just want to make sure they have what we know they’re going to need, not only on the day they get the kit but on the 100th day with the kit.”
Adopt A Pig piggy banks are available for purchase online and at fundraisers organized by the charity.