Stuffed with Love, headed by Jenifer Niederwerfer, a 14-year resident of Rutherford County, delivers Christmas stockings to area hospital oncology units to offer encouragement to those battling cancer.
In 2013, Niederwerfer, herself a breast cancer survivor, wanted to find a way to spread hope to those who’ve been where she has.
“I am eight years out of my breast cancer diagnosis,” Niederwerfer said. “Between chemo and radiation, after I was diagnosed, I wrecked my motorcycle and broke both my legs. Heading into the holidays that year, I was laid up in bed and couldn’t really go anywhere, so I spent a lot of time online just connecting with people, and I connected with Taira Baughman, a stage four, triple negative, metastatic breast cancer survivor, who part of what was called Team Martina at the time – that’s part of Martina McBride’s fan base – and she was delivering Christmas stockings to the chemo unit where she received treatment, because she just wanted to bring some extra joy. I watched the video, and Martina actually joined her, and I really felt God was like, ‘That’s what I need you to do next year,’ and I was like, ‘OK.’
“I text messaged my friends, jumped on Facebook, jumped on social media and said, ‘Here’s my idea. Who wants to join me?’ My original idea was me and a couple of friends go to where I received chemo in Nashville and deliver like 20 stockings. It then turned into several people, friends, family, Team Martina folks jumping on board, and we delivered about 150 stockings to five [oncology] units. As of last year, we ended up delivering 300 stockings to 12 different units, the VA Hospitals in Nashville and Centennial Children’s Hospital. So, in the last couple years, we’ve included children.’”
Locations Stuffed with Love delivers to include TriStar Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, Saint Thomas-Rutherford in Murfreesboro and Stonecrest Hospital in Smyrna.
Niederwerfer and her team work on the project for about six months every year.
“Usually about in June, we put out on social media and talk with our family and friends and whatnot, ‘Hey, Stocking Time.’ We have people gather hand sanitizer, chap stick, individually packaged healthy snacks, socks and hand-crocheted hats that go in each stocking,” she said. “Then in mid-November, we organize our stuffing event, and basically we bring all the empty stockings and all the stuff and do assembly line stuffing. I have a core group of about 12 members, and I have about 120 members in our Facebook group who help gather, help deliver the items for stuffing, gather donations, stuff the stockings and deliver them.”
Gloria McGee is the practice liaison with Tennessee Oncology and coordinates with Niederwerfer for the stocking deliveries that go to Tennessee Oncology’s units. McGee spoke enthusiastically of the impact Stuffed with Love has had over the years.
“It’s a wonderful event,” she said. “Our patients really love it, as well as our staff and our physicians. I think we see the joy it brings our patients, if only for those few minutes when they’re sitting in those treatment chairs. Even more than that, I think it’s the connections, because most of the people involved in this with Jen are cancer survivors themselves. Just hearing Jen’s story and her telling her story to the patients, and then many of them come back the next year to volunteer with her, and it’s so interesting to see them go full circle and be the ones giving out the stockings the next year because they received one and knew what joy they brought. Just even them sharing their stories, I think it’s stories of hope and encouragement from someone who’s been through it. I think that’s even the bigger picture of it. Not just that they got a stocking of goodies, but the connection, that these strangers care and have been in these chairs, and they understand what we’re going through, and they look great, [and so the patients may think,] ’Hey, in a year out, this could be me.’”
Niederwerfer said Stuffed with Love’s biggest need currently is donations. For more information, visit facebook.com/groups/152844378797647.