By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
WESTMINSTER, Md.- Angie Grella, wife of Westminster Church’s Pastor of Children and Families Chris Grella, recalls vividly seven years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early thirties enduring chemotherapy while caring for her sons, then ages three and one-year-old. And she remembers how a gift from a stranger brought incredible comfort.
“I was going through chemo and someone I had never met, a relative of my stepmother, made me a beautiful quilt. It was really special and it made me feel like someone I didn’t know really cared,” Grella said.
That inspired the young woman. She had been learning how to make fleece tied blankets and thought maybe she too could bless others.
“I remember when I went through chemo. You’re cold. You lose your hair, you lose weight. Some of the drugs make you feel cold even though it’s the middle of summer,” Grella said.
The couple lived in Minnesota at the time and Grella was leading a women’s Bible study. She discussed the idea of making blankets and taking them to the local infusion therapy center with the ladies in the study and they quickly agreed. The women put Bibles with the blankets and added a baggie of Hershey Hugs candies. They gave them to cancer patients at infusion centers. Each gift included a card that read, “Please accept this blanket as a hug from us. Please accept this Bible as a hug from God. We’re praying for you.” The women called the ministry HUGS.
The recipients were thrilled and the group began to get lots of cards from cancer patients telling them how much the gifts touched them and met their needs at just the right time.
The Grellas moved to Maryland in 2008 and Angie began praying, asking God if maybe they should start the HUGS ministry here? Would it be the right time? Would it be a good ministry for this church? She put it on the backburner as she considered it. Then in 2009, she was diagnosed with oral cancer on her tongue. That was taken care of without chemo but shortly afterwards; she had a lump on her neck that doctors discovered was a recurrence of the squamous-cell carcinoma and required radiation and chemo. A friend from the church in Minnesota sent a blanket to her during the treatment.
“I remember sitting in the infusion room. A person next to me was cold and kept saying, “it’s so cold in here and all they give you are these thin blankets. The Lord was saying it’s time to start this here,” Grella said
Chris and Angie once again began the HUGS program through their life group at Westminster Church. In November they took 14 blankets to the Carroll County Cancer Center. Last month they delivered 20.
“The nurse was just blown away,” Grella said.