Every day, Betsy Roarty of Upper St. Clair makes practical use of a lovely handmade satchel she received as a gift from a group of strangers more than a year ago.
The satchel is a treasure to her, a reminder of her strength and a symbol of the caring and warmth that helped her to endure one of the greatest challenges of her life: her battle against breast cancer.
Roarty’s satchel was a surprise gift she discovered in her locker at work. It was a product of the Satchels of Caring Foundation, a group that has been supporting those with cancer in the Pittsburgh region since 2003.
“I received it unexpectedly,” Roarty said. “And it was immediately appreciated. The details and thoughtfulness of each item was so special, even down to the detail of the handmade bag. I took it with me to every radiation and chemotherapy treatment, and even though I am now cancer-free, I still use the satchel. How could I not? It is so beautiful.”
Satchels of Caring uses high-quality, donated fabrics, which are stitched by skilled volunteers. They are then filled with therapeutic and inspirational contents, such as a soft turban, a scarf, support literature, a journal donated by volunteers and friends, blank note cards designed by breast cancer survivor Nadia Zolak, tissue packets, hand and body creams, a relaxation music CD and more.
Since 2003, when Satchels of Caring was born out of CREW Pittsburgh, the program has grown by more than 500 percent.
Volunteer groups from all over the Pittsburgh region assemble and fill satchels to contribute to the cause. Heather Knuth, a breast cancer survivor, and Lyn McGinnis, Knuth’s friend, have been actively involved volunteers with Satchels of Caring since 2003. Since that time, the organization has distributed more than 7,000 satchels.
In October, McGinnis and Knuth, and a group of 28 South Hills volunteers, held a stuffing event at the Outpatient Care Center in Peters Township, where they stuffed 200 satchels. The event was one of about 30 volunteer days in 2012 between the McMurray site and Center City Tower site on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh.
“The volunteers do a variety of activities … they cut fabric, sew buttons, assemble kits and stuff kits,” McGinnis said. “The October event was the first event specifically geared to stuffing the satchels. We have only been working in McMurray since March 2012 when Janis Finn, director of the Outpatient Care Center in McMurray, opened up a location for us, so we thought it would be nice for the volunteers in McMurray who primarily cut, assemble and sew satchels, to see the volume of their labors. All the satchels stuffed that day were designed and sewn by the South Hills volunteers.”
Satchels of Caring distributes satchels to 19 counties in Pennsylvania from its Pittsburgh and McMurray locations. It’s primary funding comes from its annual Bags, Bellinis and Brunch held each spring, but volunteers also can offer time and money through the website, http://www.satchelsofcaring.org/. Those who would like to get involved can learn about upcoming volunteer events through the website.
“This was my second battle with cancer,” said Roarty, 53. “I battled it the first time when I was 41, so beating it a second time was, well, an accomplishment. I thought I was in the clear after the first five years passed, so the second diagnosis came as a huge surprise. I finished my last treatment in July 2012, and very soon I hope to see what I can do for the Satchels of Caring organization since it helped me so immensely. It is a wonderful organization that I am so very thankful for.”