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MailTribune.com
  • Jessica's Legacy

  • Medford resident Jessica Cano was a typical sister, a beloved preschool teacher and a "wild and crazy" aunt who never thought twice about offering food, a place to stay or even clothes from her own closet to people in need.
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  • Medford resident Jessica Cano was a typical sister, a beloved preschool teacher and a "wild and crazy" aunt who never thought twice about offering food, a place to stay or even clothes from her own closet to people in need.
    Born just before Mother's Day in 1984, Cano died in a car accident in February 2009. While her family knew her as kind and generous, they found out after her death that the North Medford High School graduate had quietly become a one-woman support system for homeless youth.
    Her parents, Sharilyn and Rich Cano, expected a small gathering at Jessica's funeral. Instead, a standing-room-only crowd of 200-plus — along with countless stories of Jessica helping others — left them speechless: friends with drug addictions urged into treatment, friends helped with rent money, a young boy secretly given a place to sleep in the family's basement.
    In a strange twist of fate, Sharilyn Cano had attended a United Way luncheon months before her daughter's death and learned about the Maslow Project in Medford. For Christmas that year, the family answered a request from Maslow for warm gloves and scarves. They had no idea the outreach program would soon become a huge part of their lives.
    After the funeral, when the family began the painful process of sorting through Jessica Cano's belongings, her parents were reminded of a favorite story.
    "We were sitting at home one afternoon, and a girl knocks on the door," recalls Rich Cano, 57. "So I open the door, and she says, 'Jessica said I could come get some stuff out of her closet. She said I could have three outfits.'
    "Jessica always had so many clothes in her closet that it even spilled into the hall closet," he recalls. "So my wife called Jessica, and she said it was OK. The girl had been really into drugs, had no money, no food and she needed something to wear."
    At the funeral, the same girl showed up, he says, "looking normal" and grateful for Jessica Cano's help.
    With boxes and bags of Cano's belongings piled high, the family contacted the Maslow Project about donating her clothes. In a corner of Kids Unlimited, the parents met with Maslow Project youth advocate Drew Fitzpatrick, who pointed to a small collection of bins filled with mismatched clothes.
    "He told us, 'That is our clothing closet. Do you want to take it over?' " recalls Sharilyn Cano.
    On what would have been Jessica Cano's 25th birthday, May 1, 2009, the family held an event co-sponsored by Old Navy, where Jessica Cano's sister, Christina, is an assistant store manager, and collected more than 12,000 pieces of donated clothing.
    The project has since given away 4,000 pieces of clothing per year, averaging 200 to 300 pieces per week. Fitzpatrick said the partnership between Cano's family and the Maslow Project has enabled both entities to help more youth in need.
    "I think Jessica was pretty much a very rare individual," says Fitzpatrick. "I was just so touched by Jessica's story and how she lived her life. I wish I had gotten a chance to meet her."
    Now in a storefront on Main Street, Maslow and Jessica's Closet are working to expand together into a permanent home. Christina Cano says her sister would want the focus to be on kids in need, rather than on herself.
    "I think she would be really happy with what we're doing because she was the kind of person who didn't ever like to see other people suffer," says Cano.
    "But she also didn't like attention. She just helped people because she was a good person who felt like she had enough and that she could spare some of what she had."
    "What we do may not be everything, but it's at least one thing," says Sharilyn Cano.
    "Maybe their feet aren't as cold, or they can stand a little taller; maybe they decide to go to school and not feel like they stand out so much. And maybe they can feel like someone with a heart like Jessica had cares how things turn out for them."
    For information on Jessica's Closet and the Maslow Project, see www.maslowproject.com or call 541-608-6868.
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