By nature, therapists bring empathy to their practice in order to start the healing process of bringing patients back to full strength.

Empathy factored into therapist Michelle Woods’ decision to help Christmas Without Cancer last year.

That it was done in spectacular fashion took pressure off the Evergreen Park grassroots organization and contributed mightily to helping local families facing cancer issues.

Wood, her husband, Tom, and Renee Copeland summoned a close-knit group of family and friends and coined their effort as “Harvesting Hope.”

With a goal of topping last year’s totals, the second annual Harvesting Hope will again raise funds for Christmas Without Cancer at Jacob’s Well Church Community, 3450 W. Maple St., in Evergreen Park, on Sunday, Nov. 3, from 3 to 7 p.m.

In addition to helping those in need, the event has a simple premise of inviting the community to enjoy an afternoon of “fun, friends, music, food, drinks and raffle prizes.”

In recent years, Gerri Neylon, founder of Christmas Without Cancer, has come to realize that the kindness of others can be just a phone call away.

“Michelle Wood was pursuing ways to help us and did so without adding hours to our volunteers’ schedules,” said Neylon. “When we got to Jacob’s Well, we realized these talented people were throwing a festive party to help us help families.”

Wood’s practice in Evergreen Park and home in Oak Lawn brings her in contact with many families. Her “heart ached” for the mounting number of families faced with cancer challenges. The Christmas Without Cancer efforts from Thanksgiving to Christmas piqued her interest and hastened her response.

“Each Christmas, my husband and I talked about how we wished we could do more than just give a $30 donation and wondered what we could do,” said Wood. “I started to notice Christmas Without Cancer and came to appreciate its mission. I thought why not try and get something together where we can all give something to this awesome cause.

“Finally, I said, ‘Let me just contact Gerri and see what she thinks and put it out there. If it is meant to be, it’s meant to be.’ So, I spoke to Gerri, and Harvesting Hope was born.”

Through Facebook, Wood connected with Copeland, whose family was blessed by the efforts of Christmas Without Cancer. A few years earlier, Copeland’s cousin experienced the anguish of dealing with the cancer diagnosis

of a young child.

The synergy between Wood and Copeland triggered “amazing ideas and endless energy” to get it right the first time.

“Michelle and I were essentially strangers,” said Copeland. “I saw her Harvesting Hope event on Christmas Without Cancer’s Facebook page, and I thought now is my chance to help. I sent Michelle a message; we met for coffee, and the rest is history.”

Copeland is a member of the Christmas Without Cancer committee.

“Seeing the struggles my cousin went through and now meeting so many wonderful families going through similar experiences drives me to help,” said Copeland. “But, it’s also to pay it forward. Families should be able to focus on their treatment and not have to worry about the financial struggle that we see so many facing.” 

Wood agreed with that sentiment.

“Christmas Without Cancer has been helping a lot more people in recent years, so they need more resources to do that,” said Wood. “What they do is really touching, helping whole families in their greatest time of need and at a time it can have the greatest impact on their lives and take stress off the family so they can have Christmas together.”

Wood’s recruitment effort began at home, first recruiting her husband. From there, Copeland recruited “an amazing group of families from St. Catherine’s parish.”

Last year, Harvesting Hope presented 100 baskets of quality merchandise and experiences. This year will likely offer more with overnight stays, family attractions, date nights, airline tickets, split-the-pot raffle, wine pull, games such as Plinko, Punch a Cup and The Price is Right featuring a variety of prizes, and a liquor wagon raffle.

An added feature this year will be the display of a large autumnal tree to honor loved ones who have died from cancer.

“This has become a beautiful labor of love,” said Wood, “and being part of it has been such a joy in my life and shows that there is so much good out in the world.”

Christmas Without Cancer comes to the rescue of those impacted by cancer so the family can focus on Christmas. The volunteer group identifies needs such as utility bills and mortgage payments, gas, parking and children in need of wrapped presents.

Neylon said Christmas Without Cancer has been a success for a simple reason.

“People know their donations are helping people locally, right now,” she said, “so the family can focus on the spirit of Christmas.”

The upcoming Harvesting Hope will feature a deejay to provide the dance music from 3 to 7 p.m. Admission is $35 through or $40 at the door.

For more information, visit the website for Christmas Without Cancer.