PROVO, Utah — When people ask Mac Boyter for the story behind the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation (CCCF), he likes to tell them it's all President Gordon B. Hinckley's fault.
Actually, Boyter, the foundation's founder, attended an LDS priesthood meeting where he heard President Hinckley say that in addition to being faithful stewards, brethren of the LDS Church need to remember they are part of a community and should seek to bless the lives of others, regardless of religious affiliation.
"That really stuck in my mind," Boyter said.
After serious thought, Boyter, a cancer survivor himself, gathered some trusted friends around and requested their support in doing something meaningful for the 80 or so Utah County children being treated for cancer and their families.
"On a wing and a prayer, with no money and an article in the Shopper's Guide newspaper, they stepped up that first year. People just came out of the woodwork," Boyter said. "We didn't know what we were doing other than we wanted to help."
More than 14 years later, CCCF has provided assistance to approximately 1,000 families by holding an annual Christmas party with gifts, food, Santa, Cosmo the Cougar mascot and the BYU basketball team. For many of these families, Boyter said, it's their Christmas, period.
The party is a two-day event. The first night, Tuesday, Dec. 14, is for the parents to have dinner and pick up gifts for their children at the Cougar Room on BYU's campus. The second night, Wednesday, Dec. 15, is the main event where the whole family is invited to have dinner, socialize, do fun activities, pass out more gifts, rub shoulders with the BYU basketball team and be entertained and meet Santa Claus. It's an amazing time for the families because the disease has dominated their lives, and one of the goals is to help parents relax for a few hours, Boyter said.
Families who attend have children newly diagnosed with cancer, cancer in remission or have lost children to the disease. BYU coach Dave Rose and his wife Cheryl have served as honorary chairmen for many years. The event has become more meaningful since the coach had his own battle with pancreatic cancer last year.
"It's good for players to be able to give of themselves a little bit to families who are dealing with some real challenges," Rose said. "Anytime you do that you realize how you have been blessed."
Rose and his wife also enjoy connecting with the families, seeing them each year and hearing about their progress.
"We have lost quite a few of them with their battle with cancer. But even in those situations, you feel like you have been a benefit to a family in helping them get through tough times," Rose said.
The Randy Reneer family has been involved with the CCCF event for more than a decade. Before their son Brigham passed away in 2009, he suffered from leukemia and a rare degenerative disorder. For them, the party was a true Christmas gift.
"I remember showing up and feeling a huge sense of relief. Total strangers and basketball players took my kids and Santa came. I still remember that feeling of overwhelming gratitude. It was welcomed and needed. I felt these people truly wanted to share my burden and heavy heart," said Julie Reneer. "They didn't heal my son, but they brought peace and relief for a moment."
Now the Reneers help organize the event and share their perspective with new families. Being involved has also helped the family deal with the loss of Brigham.
"It's all about those small, very meaningful acts of reaching out to the one and helping them to be able to have some rest from their cares," Randy said.
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Those wishing to participate in the event can drop off unwrapped toys at Harmon's Auto Center in Provo, any of the five Far West Bank locations in Orem, Provo, Payson, Salem and at Springville's Main Street branch. There will also be donation boxes at Learning Dynamics Preschool's four locations.
Monetary donations can be sent to the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation, 56 E. 100 South, Orem, UT 84058. Toys can be dropped off until Dec. 13, while the monetary donations can be made through the end of December.
For more information on how to donate or to be involved, call the foundation's info line at 801-221-7667.