A local charity that makes care packages for children with cancer has been awarded a $2,500 grant after an winning experimental contest on Facebook intended to raise awareness of local nonprofits.
The Never Ever Give Up Foundation, nicknamed NEGU, which was started by a 12-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita girl during her 10-month fight against terminal brain cancer, received the grant Friday from the Orange County Community Foundation.
Following her diagnosis, Jessica Reese and her parents started Never Ever Give Up and created the idea of Joy Jars, care packages filled with toys for children suffering from cancer. Jessie helped fill the containers, customizing their contents according to what the receiving child liked, said her mother, Stacey Rees.
Jessie, who died earlier this month, also became a Facebook phenomenon as she wrote openly about her experiences and asked readers to support cancer research. Her Facebook profile now has more than 120,000 followers from around the world, many of whom continue to post messages of support for her family and gratitude for the way Jessie inspired them.
"Thank you for the inspiration, the hope, and the courage to [Never Ever Give Up]!" read one recent message.
"Thank you for blessing us with Jessica and know that we will continue to remind each of our kids and the adults to see her message through to the end," wrote another follower.
To choose the award's recipient and raise awareness of local nonprofit organizations, the community foundation asked people using Facebook to vote for their favorite Orange County nonprofit.
This approach led people to "enthusiastically cast their votes for their favorite organization" and prompted nonprofits to use social media "to mobilize their followers as well," the community foundation stated in a news release.
Of the 6,600 Facebook comments supporting nearly 200 local organizations, NEGU received almost half of the votes.
"We were overwhelmed by the response," said Shelley Hoss, president of the community foundation. It "shows how Jessie's story has reached out to people and touched their hearts."
Her father, Erik Rees, said he was honored that NEGU received the grant "because I know if Jessie was here, she would be thanking you."
Two runners-up — Southern California Bulldog Rescue and Don't Worry Be Happy Foundation — each received $250.
NEGU's grant will fund more than 200 new Joy Jars, which include a colorful array of Rubik's Cubes, bouncy balls, Play-Dough, coloring books, crayons, bubbles, rubber ducks and balloons, among other toys. Three thousand were sold and provided to sick children last year, according to NEGU's website.
Erik Rees said that children are curious and excited when they open the containers.
"Always a smile," added Stacey.
"We're not over the healing process yet, but it's helpful to do this," added Erik. "It keeps us attached to what she started."