Six students dressed in superhero costumes stood outside a patient’s door, grasping a small cotton hat. The four-year-old boy inside has been battling cancer for months now, and has spent most of his days stuck in a hospital bed. The hat the students give him is for more than just warmth, it is a symbol for the child and their family to keep fighting.
Love Your Melon began in 2012 as part of an entrepreneurship class at the University of St. Thomas. The company sells hats, shirts and other apparel, and began with a buy-one, give-one-away model. Several student-run chapters are spread across the United States, including the Keene State College campus.
KSC junior Abby Donovan is one of the ambassadors of the campus’ chapter, and is currently the head of public relations for the group. “We really strive to let children know that they’re still loved and as much of a person even if they don’t have hair, which is where the whole ‘melon’ idea came from,” Donovan said.
Donovan was among the six students who went on a patient visit recently, which occurs after a certain amount of sales are reached in their chapter. This was not Donovan’s first visit, but she said that each one is as impactful as the last. During the visit, the students not only give the child and each family member a beanie, but they also stay to play with the child to get their mind out of the hospital.
“It’s so rewarding just being able to meet them and give them a hat that symbolizes so much,” Donovan said. “His facial expression when he got his hat was amazing. His face lit up; he was so excited to have a hat that matches all of ours and I think he felt like he was a part of something bigger.”
In 2015, Love Your Melon donated 51,264 hats to children battling cancer, according to the organization’s website. This success is partially due to the style of the hats, along with other apparel, being popular on college campuses.
KSC senior Jessica Bonacorsi is among the many female students sporting a Love Your Melon beanie. Bonacorsi said while the hats are stylish, she does believe the reason they are trendy has a deeper meaning.
“My motivation behind buying one was that for every hat you buy, a child with cancer gets one too. It’s a great cause and I think that it’s important that the kids know there are other people who support them,” Bonacorsi said.
While Donovan is involved with the organization to support these children, other team members have a more personal reason behind volunteering.
KSC sophomore and general team member Jenna Imbrogna was exposed to lung cancer at a young age when her grandmother was diagnosed. Ultimately, Imbrogna said she wanted to be a part of something on campus that had purpose.
“My nana passed away when I was seven and it had a huge impact on my family,” Imbrogna said. “She was in the ICU, but because my sisters and I were so young, we weren’t allowed to see her. I joined Love Your Melon because of this and I wanted to help others who have been affected [by cancer].”
Both Imbrogna and Donovan promote Love Your Melon through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to get people involved in events they hold on and off campus.
“It’s great to see everyone have one [Love Your Melon hat], especially when I see people that I don’t know wearing one,” Donovan said. “It’s become so popular, and I think that people see that it’s a great cause and that there are no gimmicks or anything, that we are doing exactly what we say we are.”
Donovan said she is graduating faster than she would like to and hopes that the work that her and the other ambassadors have done on campus will continue once they are gone. Leaving a lasting impression has been one of Donovan’s goals from the start.
“We want to recruit more members that are really passionate about this,” Donovan said. “I just hope that it leaves the impression that the students here are good people because the people that are in our crew are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They are kind, giving and thoughtful and I hope that people take that away from this campus.”
Olivia Belanger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org