By Kris Gonzalez, Fort Jackson LeaderJuly 28, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- While Jessica Campoverde was growing up, her mother, aunts and other ladies of the family would gather every Sunday at her grandma's house in Southern California to make tamales.
They would sit in an assembly line, chat and enjoy each other's company while making the Mexican specialty.
"For them, it was a social thing," Campoverde said.
So when Campoverde needed a way to raise money to be able to participate in an event that celebrates women and their battles against breast cancer, it was no surprise she decided to fall back on that same family tradition for help.
Today, Campoverde is making and selling tamales as a means to raise the minimum $1,800 she needs to walk in an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Sept. 11-12 in Santa Barbara, Calif.
So far she has raised $1,500 - more than half of which was generated from sales of her tamales.
"I can't find a cure, but this is something I can do," Campoverde said. "This is something I have to do."
Campoverde's tamale venture began last October when she found out one of her dearest friends, Norma Mahony, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Campoverde and Mahony, both military wives, had become close while stationed at Fort Riley, Kan. When their husbands were reassigned to different duty stations, Mahony's at Newport, R.I.; and Campoverde's here at Fort Jackson, the two wives maintained their friendship long distance via telephone calls and e-mails.
When Mahony told Campoverde she had cancer, Campoverde took the news hard. It was Mahony who had to console Campoverde, to reassure her that she was going to be all right.
"When I started crying, Norma was the one trying to comfort me," Campoverde said. "She said, 'No, don't cry.
Everything's going to turn out OK.'"
Campoverde - whose mother had two friends die of breast cancer - decided that she wanted to do something to help women who shared Mahony's plight.
In November, she registered to participate in the two-day, 39-mile trek, and committed to raising $1,800, which will be used to help provide breast cancer screenings and treatment for both women and men, and to fund research toward finding a cure for the deadly disease.
Campoverde wrote letters to family and friends, people she and her husband had been stationed with in the past - everybody in her address book, she said - asking for their support.
Although many pulled through for her, and the donations started to come in, she realized it wasn't nearly enough. With advice from her mother, she decided to make and sell tamales.
Knowing her daughter never really learned how to make tamales, Campoverde's mother offered to teach her via webcam from her kitchen in California.
So while Campoverde prepared her first tamales, her mother talked her through each step and watched from a laptop set up on Campoverde's kitchen table.
In just one day, she learned how to boil corn husks, knead dough, tenderize meats, create her own special sauce and wrap the tamales with care.
Once she mastered the art of making tamales, Campoverde let her friends know she was up for business.
Customers could purchase a dozen tamales, made with their choice of beef, chicken, pork or cheese, all smothered with Campoverde's special sauce.
She spread the word among the moms at her playgroup, who ordered quite a bit.
Campoverde also marketed her tamales to friends on social networking sites, bringing in orders for dozens at a time, with one buyer requesting four dozen in a single order.
Deandrea Mack, a playgroup mom who occasionally helps Campoverde make her tamales, said she and her family members have become Campoverde's biggest fans.
"My husband is crazy about her tamales," Mack said. "When I walk in the door with them, he screams, 'It's fiesta time!'"
Mack, whose maternal grandmother died of breast cancer when Mack was just a toddler, and whose paternal grandmother had a double mastectomy last January, said it makes her very happy to see Campoverde - who isn't directly affected by breast cancer - care enough to do as much as she can to help those who battle the disease.
"She cares so much for people in general," Mack said. "She has a loving spirit and a really big heart."
Mahony said it's that love and support from friends like Campoverde that has helped her beat breast cancer.
Though she endured two lumpectomies, and months of chemotherapy and radiation, Mahony said she is finished with all of her treatment and is now busy living cancer free.
"Just knowing that I was thought of and loved has helped me so much," Mahony said. "There's no way I could have gotten through it otherwise."
To follow Campoverde along her journey, visit www.avonwalk.org/goto/jcamp.