The Stephen A. Comunale Jr. Family Cancer Foundation will distribute $375,000 in grants this year to help individuals facing economic struggles because of the disease.

The cancer fund has more than doubled its annual support for cancer patients and their families in the Akron area over the past five years.

The fund was created shortly after Stephen Comunale died at 27 years old from the effects of cancer in 2006. In the past 13 years, the fund has donated $2 million to hospital-based programs, such as the Wig Salon for chemotherapy and radiation-treatment patients at Summa Health, while providing direct relief to cancer patients and their families by picking up mortgage payments, utility bills, home repairs, rent, medical devices not covered by insurance, grocery cards for food and gasoline or other expenses that can add to the stress of fighting a terminal illness.

The fund has the unique goal of processing grant applications and issuing funds in 48 hours or less. "Cancer knows no economic boundaries. We work quickly to help families meet immediate expenses," said Monica Stevens, who runs the fund.

The Comunale family witnessed the need while Stephen was in the hospital, said Stevens, his aunt. Stephen's mother, Jane Comunale, died of cancer in 2011 and his aunt, Amy Comunale Klein, also died of cancer in 2007.

The fund is supported by a single fundraiser held in even-numbered years and regular donations from mostly private, non-corporate donors, as well as restaurants and retailers who give a portion of their proceeds to benefit the cause, Stevens said.

Giving has climbed from $166,000 in 2015 to $350,000 last year. Stevens, the only full-time employee among the fund's staff of three, is projecting spending to hit $375,000 this year.

“Oh, it’s incredible to be able to do this in Akron where I’ve spent my life and most of the Comunale family have lived and lost three of our family members to cancer,” she said.

To donate or apply for assistance, call 330-835-5985 or email info@stephencomunale.org or visit www.stephencomunale.org.

Planned spending for 2019 includes:

• $280,000 in relief for day-to-day living expenses to individuals and families in Summit County;

• $22,000 for Jane's Sunshine Fund, which gives random acts of kindness for cancer patients;

• $20,000 to Sunshine Bags for reusable totes containing comfort items for chemotherapy and radiation patients;

• $4,000 for the Art Therapy Fund at McDowell Cancer Institute Cleveland Clinic Akron General for projects and supplies;

• $10,000 for holiday meals to area families touched by cancer;

• $3,500 to Project Ed Bear Take Me Home Bookshelf for new books distributed in Oncology Units for Akron Children's Hospital and UH Rainbow Babies;

• $12,000 for free diagnostic mammograms for women who qualify at Summa Health Systems;

• $12,000 for summer camp for horse camp experiences for children touched by cancer;

• And $11,500 to Stewart's Caring Place Food Pantry to supply food for families in need.