Student Spotlight: Jenna Tomita gives hope to cancer patients


It’s Friday night, and while most students are out partying, Cal State Long Beach junior psychology student Jenna Tomita is at home thinking of new ways to raise money for her foundation, Hugs for Hope. “I got the idea after my good friend passed away from brain cancer while we were seniors in high school,” Tomita said.  “I was volunteering with the City of Hope Hospital and I realized that I really liked helping others.”

Tomita wanted to learn more about the needs of cancer patients, so she turned to her aunt, who has breast cancer.  Tomita learned that along with medical treatment, cancer patients need support. They need something with emotional value to provide hope and encouragement to keep fighting.

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to help all kinds of cancer patients, because different cancers have impacted my life,” Tomita said.

Tomita started raising money in September of 2010, and most of the money she raised at the time came from bake sales. After raising enough money, she then began giving cancer patients at local hospitals Build-A-Bear stuffed animals during the Christmas season.

When Tomita was five years old, her mother died five days before Christmas. “Everyone said that Christmas was the happiest time of the year, but for me it never was,” Tomita said. “I wanted to do something that could bring a little happiness to [the cancer patients] during the happiest time of the year.”

In the past two years, Tomita has raised more than $3,500 and has made and distributed almost 300 bears.

“I like the concept of bears because it’s something small that is able to keep the patient company,” Tomita said.  “I know receiving a teddy bear from a complete stranger doesn't completely remove the pain, but if I could even get them to smile just once then it’s worth it.”

Tomita said she loves every aspect of her charity. She appreciates the support she gets from her friends and the feeling she gets from helping the patients. One of her favorite aspects of Hugs for Hope is when she gets to write the words “hope,” “strength” and “believe” on shirts for the bears to wear.

“Those are powerful words, and they represent what the charity is all about,” Tomita said.

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