Several people this time of the year string colorful lights around their home, hang wreaths, and place other Christmas-themed decorations in their yard to get into the spirit of the holidays.
Outside his home in Belton, Derric Hammond, 23, also made his preparations for the holidays, but he had a somewhat different purpose in mind.
Two parallel walkways covered with mulch lead from the street curb at 522 Indian Trail and meet in front of an eastern white pine tree, which has been decorated with ornaments and strands of tinsel. Atop the tree, there’s a wooden cross painted white that reads, “KC Cancer Fighters.”
Hammond is the president of a foundation called the Kansas City Cancer Fighters, which he started working to form in 2016.
The tree, which was planted in November, is one part of the foundation’s mission.
Hammond calls it “the cancer tree” and hopes it can be a place where families and friends affected by cancer can visit aside from the hospital.
All community members are invited to come out and decorate the tree with homemade ornaments in memory of someone they know who died from cancer or for loved ones who are “fighting the battle.”
The tree, Hammond said, was his father’s idea. Derric and his dad, Delbert, work at an auto auction in Belton.
“We started off with a small tree that way we could watch it grow as the foundation grew,” Hammond said.
About two dozen people, including officers from the Belton Police Department as well as members of the Harrisonville chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, visited the tree during an opening-night event earlier this month.
Hammond said they also want to include a locked prayer box near the cancer tree for people to submit messages or requests for help.
“Going through it ourselves before, we know it’s not particularly easy reaching out and asking for help, so the prayer box is going to be used for their privacy,” Hammond said.
Hammond lost his younger brother to brain cancer 19 years ago when the family lived in Rogers, Ark. Christian Wray Hammond died before he turned 3 years old.
Hammond said he was 4 years old at the time and, although he was young, the now 23-year-old remembers everything about the experience, including visits to the children’s hospital in Little Rock.
Since he was a child, Hammond has enjoyed riding motorcycles. He got his first bike — a Harley Davidson — when he was 21 and likes to participate in motorcycle charity rides.
In 2015, Hammond helped organize a ride in Harrisonville for a family who had a child born with a birth defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Following the ride, Hammond said he knew he wanted to keep helping families.
“After the ride ended, we were at the event (in Harrisonville City Park) where all the bands were playing, me and my dad were over by the bikes talking,” Hammond said. “It was kind of like a movie. You see everything going on, but out of nowhere, everything went silent.
“I started hearing this voice in my head to go over and sit by the lake. Next thing I know, I catch something move out of the corner of my eye. ... When I looked over, I saw my brother sitting next to me, and he had the biggest smile on his face that I have ever seen. I took that as a sign from God and maybe this is what he wants me to do.”
As for this holiday season, Hammond says he’s hosting a candle-lighting ceremony for the community in memory of people who have died to cancer but also to honor those who have survived.
The candle-lighting ceremony is scheduled from 6 to 10 p.m. on Dec. 23 at 522 Indian Trail in Belton. The event is free and open to the public.
For more information, visit the event page on Facebook.