Dec. 13, 2016

Contact: Cynthia Lambert

Cal Poly Employees Donate Nearly 250 Toys to Jack’s Helping Hand

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Children who are fighting cancer or are in remission received gifts donated by Cal Poly employees during an annual Christmas party.

Faculty, staff, ASI and Cal Poly Corporation employees donated nearly 250 toys and about $150 in gift cards at a Dec. 8 campus holiday reception hosted by Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong and Sharon D. Armstrong.

The toys were distributed to children in the community through Jack’s Helping Hand.

“The generosity and commitment to service of our faculty and staff never ceases to amaze me,” President Armstrong said. “I want to thank Jack’s Helping Hand and everyone who donated to bring smiles to children in our community.”

The local nonprofit assists children with cancer and special needs who have unmet physical, mental and medical needs.

“The response was overwhelming, and the toys will be put to good use,” said Karen Borges, executive director of Jack’s Helping Hand. “We did not anticipate the number of gifts from Cal Poly and are overwhelmed with gratitude for the support to our cancer families.”

Many of the toys were wrapped and given to children at an annual pediatric cancer Christmas party at the Madonna Inn on Monday, Dec. 12 — an event sponsored by Jack’s Helping Hand and the Central Shores Oncology Nursing Society, said pediatric oncology nurse practitioner Mary Mott Okimoto of SLO Oncology & Hematology Health Center.

“I was ecstatic when I saw that Jack’s Helping Hand was the recipient of the donations from President Armstrong’s event,” said Erika Cota, a budget analyst in Cal Poly University Housing, whose son, Mateo, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2013. “It just warmed my heart that the Cal Poly community was being educated about Jack’s Helping Hand, and I know the phenomenal families who will receive the gifts.”

Grace Yeh, a Cal Poly associate professor of Ethnic Studies, and her family have also received support from Jack’s Helping Hand. Her 8-year-old son, Owen Rippens, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in June 2015.

“I was very happy that Cal Poly chose to support Jack’s Helping Hand,” Yeh said.

“Jack’s Helping Hand has been extremely integral to many of the families in many ways — they create a community so that families can connect,” she added. “Owen realized that there are so many people — total strangers — who are there to support him.”

Some of the collected toys will go to an annual pediatric cancer camp, Camp Reach for the Stars, held the first weekend of June at Camp Yeager in Cambria. Families will receive a stuffed animal on their bed when they arrive to camp, and other toys can be used for bingo prizes for the children during camp.

In addition, any extra small toys will be used in a treasure chest at SLO Oncology Hematology, where patients get to pick a small toy after getting poked with a needle for labs or chemotherapy.

“When families are on their way to the hospital, they frequently stop by the office to pick up their assistance — gas cards, visa cards, hotel confirmation information, etc.,” Borges said. “We then allow the kids (including siblings) to choose toys to take with them for the long drive and to play with at the hospital. So these toys will truly make a difference!”

To learn more about the nonprofit organization, go to

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