When Kari “Kiki” Bergeron was first diagnosed with cancer in 2016, she felt a massive outpouring of love from her friends and family bringing her cooked meals, care packages and flowers galore. That love and support continued through treatments, with her never sitting through an appointment alone. In October 2018, her best friend Kerry Capron asked if there was anything she could do for her, seeing that it was breast cancer awareness month.
“I realized how much support I’d had, and I thought back to the patients who were all alone while waiting for treatment,” Bergeron says. “Chemotherapy is incredibly hard, but it’s unimaginable to go through with no one by your side.”
Bergeron told Capron that there was something she could do—not for her, but for the numerous patients who were suffering without any assistance or encouragement.
“What if we put care packages together for the hospitals?” Bergeron suggested, thinking of the stark infusion center that could use a little joy. That year, they packed 20 bags for cancer patients in local hospitals. The following year, they packed 50.
“Later, in 2019, I felt like we could do better,” she says. “Not just regarding the number of bags we were making, but with the quality of items that went in them. I had a very good idea of what would be useful to a cancer patient having been in their shoes.”
In 2020, Bergeron, Capron and their friend Amanda Leblanc decided to formally launch the nonprofit, naming it Totes de Joies, French for totes of joy. “Capron and Leblanc were instrumental in getting me through my diagnosis, treatment and recovery, so it was so special having them join me on this endeavor,” Bergeron says.
Since the organization’s official start, they’ve delivered around 1,200 totes—roughly 450 per year—to local hospitals. Bergeron has spearheaded this effort all while practicing full time as a partner at Taylor Porter law firm.
“Just like anything in life, if it’s important to you, you can make it work,” Bergeron says about juggling both responsibilities. “I spread the packing parties out quarterly, so it’s not too overwhelming for my team, or the hospitals.”
Totes de Joies has gone even farther by getting the community involved with packing parties once every few months. A few of the groups who assist annually in the effort are the St. Joseph’s Academy’s dance team, the Red Steppers, the Episcopal School girls’ soccer team, law clerks at Taylor Porter and most recently, her mother’s garden club in Lafayette.
“We typically pack 100 totes per party,” Bergeron explains. “After setting up an assembly line for quick packing, we give the group a short talk on what our organization is, all the good that it does and the correct pronunciation. It’s great to hear kids asking engaging questions like where the totes will end up, and it’s even better that we get to tell them they’ll stay in the community.”
The totes are distributed by hospital staff at multiple cancer centers in the region including Mary Bird Perkins, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and Woman’s Hospital. Inside, patients find a mixture of practical and feel-good items curated by Bergeron. For example, there are products to help with nausea and dehydration.
“Because I’ve been through it, I know what will be helpful,” she says. “Like a word search for the long waiting, an eye mask to battle the brightness, a grocery tote to pack a blanket in, mints, gum, hand sanitizer, green tea, fun stickers, a prayer card, a reusable tumbler, a handmade bracelet and a handwritten note from myself can be found in every tote. Although writing these notes can be time consuming, it’s necessary. It’s powerful to hear from a cancer survivor who knows what you’re going through and has made it out on the other side.”
Bergeron is a firm believer in the power of kindness and spreading even a small amount of joy. “The best part about this has been hearing from those who receive a tote, and how much better it made them feel during such a difficult time,” she says. “If you feel a tug at your heart, to do something, do it!” instagram.com/totes_de_joie