By the time she was 23, Jillian Domingue had lost three close friends to cancer. Devastated by the loss, she set out to make a difference.
She spoke with oncologists, cancer center workers and specialists in the field, and stumbled upon the fact that one in five people with cancer die not from the disease itself, but from malnutrition, infections and falls that happen while they are in treatment.
She saw an opportunity. She would provide cancer patients with the essential items — food, as well as infection prevention and mobility items — to address those risks at no cost.
Running the CareBox Program as a service of another cancer organization she was already running, she set up shop in a “windowless closet” in fall 2014 and put together an Amazon Wish List for the program’s first patient, a man named Oscar. The list had $760 worth of items and was fulfilled within 24 hours.
“We knew we were on to something that was really meaningful and was going to make a difference,” said Domingue, who has since shuttered the previous group and focused all her attention on CareBox. “We have found a critical gap and the need is universal.”
Since then, the program has set up its own website and registry, moved into a bigger office and delivered care boxes with items like organic nutritional shakes, shower chairs, disinfectant wipes and disposable face masks, to more than 370 cancer patients, and hopes to expand those services.
This year, the program got a boost when it won $12,000 in the Philanthropitch nonprofit fast-pitch competition. It also earned admission into Mission Accelerator, a five-month business boot camp for nonprofits that will help it create a business model toward that expansion.
The group combines crowdfunding with its registry of items that cancer patients need. On the group’s website, a donor can scroll through a patient’s curated list of items and give toward paying for some of those items.
The group hopes to serve 500 patients this year and expand beyond Central Texas into Houston and Dallas. The group has also received calls for its services in five other states, Domingue said.
All that makes the group’s thirst for expansion more pressing. The greater Austin area alone sees 12,000 newly diagnosed cases of cancer every year, Domingue said, and she hopes to help as many of those patients as possible. But to achieve that, the nonprofit needs to grow exponentially.
The group has a staff of five and is limited in its capacity to meet the ever-growing demand for its services. In 2015, the group delivered 70 care boxes the entire year. Less than halfway through 2016, the group has already delivered 61.
“We know there’s going to come a point where we’re going to have to scale quickly because the need is so big,” she said.
Domingue hopes that the Mission Accelerator program will help CareBox come up with a sustainable revenue model to support the group’s ambitious expansion plan and lay out a timeline for its move into Houston and Dallas.
“It almost seems like the sky’s the limit right now,” said Rhiannon Nunziato, the group’s logistics and supply chain manager. “We’re poised to change what we need to change and do what we need to do. We’re ready.”
This is one in a series of profiles of the eight Philanthropitch finalists to be profiled by the American-Statesman. To learn more about the CareBox Program, visit www.careboxprogram.org.