MANATEE -- A local church is hosting a combination bake and garage sale from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. July 14, to help pay the medical expenses of a young boy who doesn't even attend the church.
The story involves a Bradenton man with a heart for cancer victims, a Bradenton church and a Palmetto family who has been through a lot and is surviving through the support of others.
The church is First Baptist Church, 1306 Manatee Ave. W. The man with a mission is Charles Richard "Dick" Garland III, a five-year lung cancer survivor who, with his wife this year, started a cancer support group at First Baptist.
The family is the DeSantis clan of Palmetto, including Donna and James, mom and dad to Mikayla, 9, Madison, 4, and Matthew, 6. On Sept. 28, 2011, Matthew was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and he has been battling the disease ever since.
The DeSantises attend Bayside Community Church in East Manatee and say they are overwhelmed that people at First Baptist are willing to help them with their ongoing medical expenses for Matthew, who will be taking chemotherapy daily, moving to weekly and, eventually, monthly, at All-Children's Hospital for the next three years, as well as steroids to boost his immune system.
"I know the little guy has had rough times with the chemo," Garland said.
The connection was made by Kathryn Giddens, a friend
of the DeSantises who attends First Baptist Church. She asked officials at her church if they could help the family.
"They are a community church and they feel they are there to help the community," Giddens said of her fellow church members. "They are loving people. They open their arms to anyone in need, Their main focus is to reach out to wherever the need is."
Giddens said at first she wasn't sure what the reaction to her idea would be.
"I said I would like to do this sale for a family fighting leukemia and their bills are tremendous," Giddens said. "My church not only said yes, they have been amazing and thrown us all their support."
"There is everything you can think of at the sale," Giddens added, "There will be household items and furniture, infant clothes, child swings, child high chairs, lots of baby items and clothes. We have had exercise equipment donated and different bake companies are donating as well as private people baking to be part of it."
It was exactly what Garland wanted his cancer support group to be able to handle.
"Words can't express the gratitude when people come together like this," said Donna DeSantis, who is the owner of a preschool in East Manatee. "When you are hit like this, life leaves you very emotional and overwhelmed. We are not even members of this church and they are jumping in for us. This is great."
"Regardless if someone is a member of our church, we try to reach out to them," said Garland, who has the support of the church's associate pastor, John Gregory. "This is kind of unique for us. We usually do practical things, like take care of their swimming pool, drive them to Moffitt Cancer Center, water their plants, pick up family members."
First Baptist's cancer support group currently has six volunteers and Garland is actively recruiting.
For Matthew, Garland contacted local TV celebrity and cancer fighter Dick Vitale, and Vitale eagerly contributed items for an auction, Garland said.
For Donna DeSantis, it's all about feeling love, which balances the pain.
"My sweet, lovable boy is fighting super strong," Donna DeSantis said. "We are on an emotional roller coaster. The steroids he takes make him angry, not his normal self. Or they bring him down low where he is quiet and laid back and where he doesn't do anything at all.
"Matthew is big into baseball," DeSantis added. "He loves the Tampa Bay Rays. He plays Little League in Lakewood Ranch when he is able. He has sat out more games than he can play. He doesn't understand what he is facing. I tell him that he is going to get better and needs to be strong and it will help other kids out. He keeps saying, 'Mom, I'm tired of being sick. I want to go play but my legs hurt.'"
Matthew will continue to go to All-Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg until he is about 21 years old, his family said.
People who would like to donate items to the bake and garage sale for Matthew can bring items to the church from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. right up until Saturday's event, Garland said. For after-hours donations, call Giddens at 941-448-6382.