MANKATO — Mankato hospitals and clinics will now begin distributing Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund caring boxes to patients diagnosed with the disease.

The fund, founded in early 2017, was established in part to provide support and comfort to the newly diagnosed. The boxes — stuffed with a blanket, cookbook, journal, gift card and informational pamphlets — were the most direct way they hoped to do so.

On Thursday, the first boxes were delivered to Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato and Mankato Clinic. Another shipment will make its way to Open Door Health Center at a later date.

A total of 150 boxes will go out in the first wave, at which point the health care providers can get them to their patients as soon as Friday.

The fund’s namesake and director personally delivered boxes to Mayo in Mankato late Thursday afternoon. Before handing them off to oncology staff, Zierdt said he hopes the packages show the newly diagnosed they’re not alone.

“We’re reaching out to say we want to help them,” he said.

Zierdt's own cancer diagnoses and treatment have been well documented. Thinking back to his initial diagnosis, he got emotional thinking about how he'd react if he had received a box like the ones delivered.

“My reaction would’ve been somebody has thought about what I’m about to experience and they’re trying to help me,” he said.

Fund Director Tami Paulsen said 30 volunteers helped prepare the boxes for delivery Wednesday evening. The ample support, to her, showed how much the cause speaks to people.

“What I think is most gratifying about this is seeing how many community members and businesses have come together to help this project,” she said.

As far as getting the boxes in patients' hands, the health care providers will handle it as they see fit. Mayo in Mankato Oncology Nurse Manager Tracy Culbertson said nurses in her unit will be the ones providing the boxes.

She said the package could be the high point in what will otherwise be an intense and overwhelming day for the newly diagnosed.

“It provides that level of comfort, that little bit of light in a really difficult day,” she said.

Thursday may have been the first caring box delivery, but it won’t be the last. Paulsen estimates as many as 1,200 boxes will need to be packed and distributed in the region annually, so another shipment will likely be needed soon.

“Our hope is as this process unfolds there will be a regularly scheduled delivery system to medical providers,” she said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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