Cancer survivor JJ Santellana made the news in September when he started a pillow drive for the homeless in Victoria.

Mary Rose Barta saw the story in the newspaper about JJ collecting pillows and brought it to the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court No. 1604, in Shiner.

Barta, who served as pillowcase chair, said the project took off and spread to others in the community.

In one month, the group collected pillowcases to match the more than 100 pillows JJ gave to Mid-Coast Family Services.

He also collected several cases of bottled water for the nonprofit organization.

"We wanted to do it because this little fellow inspires us," Barta said.

She and two other Catholic Daughters members drove to Mid-Coast's main office Tuesday to deliver more than 100 pillowcases.

Some were recently sewn, while others were gently used, but each one has a note attached.

"We just thought if somebody gets it, let's let them know that somebody does care," Barta said.

Mid-Coast serves the Crossroads counties with an emergency women's shelter and services to victims of family violence and homelessness.

"We have people coming in every day," executive director Ginny Stafford said as she accepted the donation.

Stafford, Barta and many others in the Crossroads have followed JJ's journey as he battles cancer.

JJ was first diagnosed with Wilms' tumor, a rare cancer that starts in the kidneys and primarily affects children, in March 2014.

He started another round of chemotherapy Monday one day after he turned 5.

The family has also moved to Katy to be closer to MD Anderson Cancer Center for his treatment.

Last weekend, JJ's aunt organized "Be My Hero JJ 5K" at Riverside Park.

The cold and chance of rain couldn't keep supporters from attending the fundraiser, which helped JJ's family with ongoing medical expenses.

Claire Santellana, JJ's mother, said they raised about $3,000 after expenses.

Cheerleaders from St. Joseph High School and Victoria West High School made big banners and several local businesses sponsored or donated to the cause.

Participants also sang happy birthday to JJ, and he got a Spider-Man cookie cake.

"He felt so loved," she said. "I was shocked. The community really did come together for him."

Santellana said she is touched by the recent pillowcase donation and talked to JJ about how doing good deeds can make others happen in the world.

"It's so neat that his idea could inspire so many people," she said. "He's got such a good heart."

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Features Editor

Laura has covered health and nonprofits in the Crossroads since 2014. She's also mom to a toddler, loves journalism conferences and is a big fan of sci-fi and crime TV.

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