VALRICO, Fla. — A nonprofit in eastern Hillsborough County is working to help kids with cancer by lifting up them and their families while they go through the most difficult moments of their lives.
Inside a home in Valrico, a living room has been converted into an office, filled with volunteers and family members of Small But Mighty Heroes, a nonprofit started by Tina Downing.
Downing, a former pediatric nurse, sorts through a plethora of pink products to put into a basket to give to a young woman who has been fighting cancer for years.
“She loves pink, she loves the western look, she likes the makeup. I am wearing pink for her today,” Downing said.
It’s carefully curated because that’s the kind of attention to detail Downing likes to put in to every care package she puts together.
“We do about eight different kids a week, give or take,” she said.
With her organization, Small But Mighty Heroes, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She started the nonprofit in 2017 and acts like a middleman of sorts between families with children fighting cancer and ways the community can help them through this battle.
With a background in pediatrics, she also helps look over research and answers questions.
“It’s humbling and it’s nice to know that we’re making such a big difference,” Downing said.
Even if that difference is through small tokens of appreciation like these care packages called “hero boxes.”
“I’m literally just following their journey,” Downing said. “Making that personable approach, calling Mom, calling Dad, ‘how’s so-and-so doing,’ they come to us to tell us what they need and we will show what we can do. And if we can’t do it, we bring the community together to help us do that.”
Sometimes that means putting in 18-hour workdays, essentially out of her home that she’s converted into an office.
According to Downing, she and the numerous volunteers in her organization stay in touch with these heroes and do whatever it takes to help them, even if it’s as simple as a call checking in.
It’s those personal touches that let people know there are folks who care which is why she’s driving over an hour-and-a-half away from her home in Valrico to Arcadia to personally deliver this care package to Jazmin Lopez, who was diagnosed with cancer at 17.
Lopez had a bone marrow transplant with her father and after years of fighting cancer, doctors say the transplant worked.
“The transplant is doing its job and that’s all we could ever want,” Lopez said.
To add on to that incredible news, she learned that Downing was reaching out and wanted to bring some goodies over to celebrate her 21st birthday and the news she’s been waiting four years to get.
“I just feel really special. I feel really, really good,” Lopez said. “Like, okay, what I did, it was worth it.”
Because, as she puts it, not many people can say they went through two cancer diagnoses, chemo, radiation and a bone marrow transplant and came out stronger than ever.
To Downing, Lopez is a “small but mighty hero” who’s worth celebrating.
Small But Mighty Heroes hosts different events throughout the year.
In July, they’re doing a bingo night and foam dance party to raise money for these young heroes.