Staff and students at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in Sherman Oaks partnered with the HoldYou Foundation to provide Christmas gifts for several families who have young ones battling a life-threatening illness.
The staff sponsored a family whose 1-year-old son is battling a rare cancer-like condition for which he is undergoing chemotherapy. During the school’s staff luncheon on Dec. 15, gifts were gathered not only for the boy, but also for his five siblings.
Additionally, fourth-grade students donated gifts to two other families: one with a baby who was in the NICU and whose mother is on dialysis, and another with a 2-year-old who has eye cancer.
“I just think families are very deserving of being able to care for their sick children and there’s not a system to catch them,” said Natalie Hill, HoldYou’s founder whose husband, Dominic Campanella, is a fourth-grade teacher at St. Francis de Sales. “So we just are that safety net support system.”
Hill herself knows about that experience firsthand. When she was a teenager, she was hospitalized with an unknown illness that left her feverish, fatigued, and with bruises all over her body. Doctors suspected lupus or leukemia, but she was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, she said.
Though she was hospitalized for only a week, the experience left a lasting impression on her.
“I noticed a lot of children in there by themselves with their chemo bald heads and I couldn't understand as a teenager where their parents were,” Hill said.
After graduating from Catholic University of America, Hill did her best to give back, including working at an orphanage in Tijuana. In 2015, when her husband’s cousin — a young girl — was hit by a car and the girl’s mother had to quit her job to care for her, Hill once again saw a need.
“I just again thought, ‘What is happening to families who don’t have a network or a community of people there to support them?’ ” Hill said. “And that’s all too many families.”
In 2015, Hill founded HoldYou and provided the first family with assistance in 2016. Although the holidays are the busiest with direct outreach, Hill’s organization is active in helping needy families all year long.
For more information and to donate, visit holdyou.org.