DE PERE — Grace Fuss may only be 15, but she’s known her life’s purpose for several years. “My mission is to create joy and happiness for cancer patients,” said Fuss. This endeavor is so important to her that she created the “Fighting Cancer with Grace” nonprofit organization in February 2019 to support it.
Fuss, a freshman at West De Pere High School, is the daughter of Nick and Jenni Fuss. She has two younger brothers, Griffin and Grant. Fuss said she was inspired to help people with cancer after witnessing what her mom went through.
“My mom had breast cancer,” said Fuss. “This month, she’s seven years cancer-free. During her treatment, she had a lot of support and a lot of people helped her throughout that process. I loved the impact that nurses and doctors had on her, so I wanted to give back to cancer patients, but also nurses and doctors, too.”
Another inspiration for Fuss is her favorite saint. “St. Elizabeth Ann Seton wanted to help people. She was also part of a charity. I feel like I relate to her the most, which draws me to look up to her,” said Fuss.
She set a goal of creating 20 care packages to deliver to people undergoing cancer treatment during the initial year of Fighting Cancer with Grace. “I didn’t think I was going to make it to that number, but, with all the support that I got, I was able to donate 60 that year,” recalled Fuss. “In 2020, we were thinking we would do 60 and we did 80. In 2021, our goal was 80 and we did 120. My goal for 2022 is 200 care packages — 120 this winter and 80 in the spring.”
The content of the care packages changes from year to year. Each recipient this year will get a duffle bag to start. “Included in the bag is a blanket, a soup pouch, a flashlight with an inspirational message (‘Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. Let your faith be your light on your journey.’), Festival Foods and Kwik Trip gift cards, a puzzle, a book, a water bottle, lotion and a microwavable rice bag heating pad,” said Fuss.
Care packages have a retail value of $150 each. Fuss and her mother purchase some of the items and others are donated.
“The cozy blankets we buy at Sam’s Club. We buy the soup pouches from Soup and Dipity in Black Creek,” she said. “The owner, Michelle Wucki, is amazing and she gives us a wonderful discount on them. Festival Foods and Kwik Trip donate gift cards. We get the water bottles with our logo on from a company on the internet. We get the puzzles from Fleet Farm. They have a great deal when Toyland opens every November. The books were donated by someone in our area.”
When this idea first took shape, Fuss connected with a neighbor who worked at The Cancer Team at Bellin Health to find people to whom the care packages could be donated.
“In 2020, we had so many people reach out and ask us for care packages that last year, we gave 80 to Bellin and we had 40 for when people reached out to us, saying, ‘Hey, I have a loved one that would love a care package, can I please have one?’”
Like everywhere else in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic affected Fighting Cancer with Grace, said Fuss. “When I first donated the care packages, I was able to hand them out personally,” she said “With COVID, I couldn’t hand them out, so I had to drop them off at Bellin. In 2020, I was able to deliver some, but not all of them.”
If Fuss isn’t able to interact with the cancer patient, she includes a card in the bag. “It explains what I’m doing and what my goal is,” she said. “It also includes ways to contact me. People can follow me on my Facebook page to see more of my journey or go to my website (FightingCancerWithGrace.org). Some people actually reach out and say how this care package impacted their life.”
Raising money to stock these care packages is an ongoing effort. “The first year I raised money by personalizing glassware. We have a Cricut machine that cuts out vinyl and I stick it onto glasses. I made T-shirts for a little bit. Last year, our really big seller was our candles,” said Fuss. “We also started making decorated lanterns.”
Through her charity, Fuss said she has met “many nice people” — doctors, nurses and cancer patients. As she is wont to say, “Everything happens for a reason,” including her mom’s cancer.
“I was super young when my mom was diagnosed, but watching the impact when people would come and ring the doorbell, and say, ‘Hey, I brought you this. I hope you’re feeling better,’ it showed that people cared,” she said. “I want to give that feeling back to other people, even if I don’t meet them. I want them to know that I do care about them and I care about their journey and I hope that it’s successful.”
Name: Grace Fuss
Parish: Our Lady of Lourdes, De Pere
Favorite Saint: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Words to live by: “Everything happens for a reason.”