NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A local foundation aimed at helping families who are or have been impacted by pediatric cancer has been honored for its charity.
The Wes Strong Foundation is holding it’s 10th Wes’ Wish Shopping Expo. The event was started by Wes Pak in 2011 to give back to children who were battling cancer.
“It started with just five little red wagons filled with toys. Each child in the clinic got a toy. It has grown tremendously in the last 10 years. Wes, until he passed away, was directly involved,” said Krista Pak, who is Wes’s mother as well as the CEO of the foundation.
Pak says her son, who was five at the time, wanted to give his toys away to other children.
At its 10th-annual event, the foundation continues to do that, and will help about 130 families by allowing parents to pick out gifts for free.
“He was so passionate about it, it’s only right we continue it. And his story lives on through our toy drive and our other actions during the year. Wes isn’t physically here but he is here because of his toy drive,” she said.
Normally, the shopping expo would be held at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, but due to COVID-19, the event was held at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Norfolk. Pak says that COVID-19 was not going to stop them from helping families who could really use some hope this year.
“We weren’t going to let the virus stop us,” she said. “These families are still fighting every day. They’re still facing all kinds of financial devastation. Nothing’s changed this year. It’s more, so they need our help.”
The foundation was officially started in 2014.
On Friday, Pak was presented with a resolution from the Virginia General Assembly.
Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, who represents the 21st District of Virginia, says she heard about the group last year and says the General Assembly wanted to commend the foundation on all they do for the community.
“It’s extremely important, especially during this year and this time of year, to look to the good that’s happening and for people to get assistance they need. The work they’re doing, you can’t imagine how it is to deal with a child with cancer,” she said.
Convirs-Fowler appreciates all the time and effort the foundation puts in to help these families have some type of joy during their darkest days.
“I have three children. I couldn’t imagine the strength it takes to go through and to be able to help and provides services to families and be able to let them have a holiday where there’s one less thing on their plate, where they’re able to get the help they need and enjoy a little bit of their time,” she said.
It’s that little bit of time that Kaitlyn Harvey appreciates. She drove up from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to participate for the first time.
Harvey says her child was diagnosed with cancer last February and died the same year.
“Absolutely, we made it through. We’re going to keep pushing,” she said.
Harvey was picking out clothes for her 5-year-old and her baby that will be born soon.
Being able to have this type of support, especially in 2020, makes a difference.
“It’s a big help. It’s very reassuring, you have support when you lose a child,” she said.
It’s those types of stories, not only from families who have received but volunteers who come out to help each year, that Pak says really touch her and help keep her son’s memory alive.
“They’re helping keep Wes alive. His story is still spreading and is still having that positive effect on other people,” she said. “For me, it’s nice to hear my son’s name still because he’s not here for me to hold or see him. For me, that’s a blessing.”
Pak says there is a waitlist for families who would like to get gifts. They also have families in need of sponsorships. If you would like to help, click here.
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