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SANTA ROSA — As Super Bowl 50 approached, several hundred volunteers from Jackson Family Wines and elsewhere joined some NFL players in Santa Rosa to fill 3,500 gift baskets for children with serious illnesses.

They came to Spring Hills Community Church on Fulton Road on Jan. 30 to work with Super Baskets of Hope (superbasketsofhope.org). It's a 501c3 nonprofit organization celebrating 21 years of giving hope to sick children and their loved ones across the nation in cities where NFL Super Bowls are held.

The nonprofit was founded by Angela Brunette in 1995 when her daughter, Christina, then age 7, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma (an inoperable cancerous tumor on her spine). After a year of radiation and chemotherapy treatment at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri, Christina’s tumor shrunk and then disappeared.

“Every week hundreds of children are diagnosed with cancer,” said Brunette. “At the time of diagnosis, children and their families feel overwhelmed with the news. It is important for them to be reminded that God loves them and is neither punishing nor abandoning them. He will be there with them through this frightening time. It is also important for them to know that the community cares for them.”

Wanting to give back, Angela and husband Paul set out to provide other kids and parents facing similar devastating news with the same comfort and hope they received from family members, friends, scripture and prayer. The result was the Basket of Hope program to help ease the pain and anxiety associated with severe childhood illnesses, while also helping to build the family’s faith during hospitalization.

“It started by giving a Basket of Hope to young ones newly diagnosed with cancer and quickly grew to include other children facing life-threatening illnesses,” said Christina Brunette Hoffemeger, now age 28. “We spread the word through the NFL with the help of football players, coaches and others willing to join us.

Several NFL players, teams, coaches and alumni continue to support this project. For example, Lorenzo Alexander, an 11-year veteran of the Oakland Raiders and now a free agent, along with DeAngelo Hall, a Washington Redskin for 13 seasons, came to Santa Rosa to lend a hand on the basket assembly line.

Others, such as Graham Gano (Carolina Panthers), Chris Myers (Houston Texans and Denver Broncos), Kurt Warner (Arizona Cardinals), Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles), as well as coaches Tony Dungy and Sean Payton are long-time supporters.

Last Sunday afternoon, baskets were filled with age-appropriate and gender specific toys, games, books, crafts, movies, gift certificates, stuffed animals and other things kids love by Sonoma County Tourism Bureau Ambassadors, Jackson Family Wines employees, Spring Hills Community Church members, local supporters and others who came from as far away as Seattle to be part of this humanitarian effort.

“As a family-owned and run company, Jackson Family Wines has always believed strongly in the importance of being good neighbors. How we help take care of the communities where we do business is as important as the grapes we grow and the wines we craft, whether that’s how we take care of our employees or how we give back as a member of the region,” said Caroline Shaw, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Santa Rosa-based Jackson Family Wines.

“We launched a new company volunteer program, called Rooted for Good, earlier this year, and we are proud that some 185 Jackson Family Wines employees gave of their time last week helping Baskets of Hope unpack pallets of donated goods, set up assembly lines and fill totes. Our team will also assist with delivering baskets later this week.”

In addition to the baskets, Hope Totes containing encouraging books, a Bible, a journal, a hope necklace by JBloom Designs, music and other items, are distributed to parents and family members. “We believe the support systems behind these children are just as in need of love and support as the patients themselves,” Brunette said.

The Brunette family believes that familiar items provided in an unfamiliar place bring some sense of control, normalcy, and enjoyment to the individual child, as well as siblings and other family members.

Each year Basket of Hope delivers thousands of gift baskets free of charge to more than 20 hospitals and Ronald McDonald houses nationwide. The baskets stuffed in Santa Rosa will be distributed to patients at five children’s hospitals in Northern California.

Deliveries will be made by Alexander, Matt Flemer of the Colorado Rockies and Marcus Simein (Oakland A’s and Raiders) to kids at the Oakland Kaiser Hospital. In Santa Clara, San Francisco 49ers Vance McDonald, Kendall Gaskins and Lyle Nelson will do the same at another Kaiser Hospital. In Palo Alto, DeAngelo and Ryan Neill (Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams) will visit children at the Lucile Packard Hospital.

At the Roseville Kaiser and the Fairfield North Bay Medical Center, volunteers from Jackson Family Wines, 2 Men and a Truck and Basket of Hope will be delivering baskets to kids and Hope Totes to parents containing gifts to nourish them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.