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Hockey Fights Cancer

Ducks collect 'Joy Jars' for 'courageous kids'

Jessie Rees' legacy honored on Hockey Fights Cancer night in Anaheim

by Abbey Mastracco / Correspondent

ANAHEIM -- As Anaheim Ducks fans lined up Wednesday to donate toys and socks for a charity that produces "Joy Jars" for kids with cancer, the Ducks made sure they were following Jessie Rees' rules.

Jessie, who created Joy Jars in 2011 at age 11, had three stipulations, and she wanted everyone to follow them to the letter.

Rule No. 1: No air. Joy Jars were to be filled with toys, crazy patterned socks, maybe some crayons or markers or other items kids being hospitalized would find entertaining and unique. Jessie wanted the jars to be filled to the brim, so much so that toys would pop out like a jack-in-the-box when they were opened.

Rule No. 2: No "cheesy toys," as Jessie called them. She didn't care much for cheap toys, because those wouldn't make kids feel special.

Rule No. 3: Deliver them quickly.

The Ducks partnered with the Jessie Rees Foundation as part of Hockey Fights Cancer night on Wednesday with a JoyDrive. Fans brought items for Joy Jars, and all proceeds from the night went to the foundation. Two "courageous kids," as they're called (Jessie didn't like the term "cancer patient") participated in game events, including dropping the ceremonial faceoff and serving as an honorary stick boy on the Anaheim bench.

Joy Jars began as paper bags with inspirational messages Jessie helped deliver to Children's Hospital of Orange County. Eventually, she made more than 3,000 of them. She did so despite the fact she was told she wouldn't live past the age of 12.

On March 3, 2011, Jessie was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an exceptionally rare form of cancer brought on by an inoperable brain tumor. But what others might see as a tragic situation, Jessie saw as an opportunity to help make her peers happy, which she continued to do until she died on Jan. 5, 2012, and which the Jessie Rees Foundation continues to do in her honor.

"I can remember it like it was yesterday," said Rees' father, Erik. "We were leaving the parking garage and she said, "Mom, dad, when do all of the other kids get to come home?' I remember telling her that some kids spend days, some spend weeks and some spend months and some of the Leukemia kids can spend over a year there. From the backseat of our car she simply said, 'How can we help them?'"

Later that day Erik and his wife, Stacey, thought they would find Jessie exhausted from radiation treatments. Instead, they found her decorating brown paper bags, writing messages of hope and putting in her own Beanie Babies.

When Jessie's world was falling apart, she was worried about others.

"We're in this chaos, we're trying to figure out how we're going to save our daughter's life," Erik said. "And here she is, thinking, 'How can we help the kids that can't leave the hospital?' "

The foundation has evolved to become something far bigger than the Rees family ever imagined. They now have a "Joy Factory" that has produced more than 100,000 Joy Jars and has distributed them to more than 275 children's hospitals in all 50 states and 30 countries, and all Ronald McDonald Houses, according to the foundation website, Erik, who was a pastor at nearby Saddleback Church, stepped down from his position last year when a family in San Diego offered a capacity grant to grow the foundation.

Several athletes, including former Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, regularly work with the organization and help deliver Joy Jars. Jessie's joy is still being spread.

"I don't know why, but she had this burden for kids, her peers, that couldn't leave," Rees said. "She used to always tell me, 'Daddy, I feel lonely and limited.' I can guarantee you that these kids that we have here aren't going to go home feeling lonely and limited. They're going to feel loved."

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