Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

Sarah Kelly, left, and her sister Leah Robert, co-owners of SaltyGirl Beauty in Kennebunk, are using their beauty products company and associated nonprofit foundation to help to support small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak and, in turn, continue their mission to support adults going through cancer treatment. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

KENNEBUNK — Even before they officially started their SaltyGirl Beauty line, sisters Sarah Kelly and Leah Robert were working to improve the emotional well-being of local adult cancer patients.

It’s a deeply personal cause for both women. Kelly, 41, a mother of three children 6 and younger, is in full remission from stage 3 breast cancer. Robert, 34, is an oncology nurse at New England Cancer Specialists’ Scarborough office.

Last year, as their wellness cosmetic brand doubled its year-over-year sales, the two busy mothers were able to raise $36,000 at their fourth annual gala for their nonprofit, Foundation4Love. That money was turned into special nights out, weekend getaways and other emotionally recharging events so cancer patients can “disconnect from their cancer and connect with their loved ones,” as Robert puts it.

This year they expected to do even more, both in terms of their philanthropy and the growth of their business.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. The 200-plus person gala was canceled. Their business, which had doubled its year-over-year sales in 2019 and was projected to reach $250,000 in sales in 2020, saw its wholesale business disappear overnight, a 40-to-50 percent loss of monthly sales.

So the sisters adjusted their plans – but not their mission.

They would continue to brighten the lives of cancer patients and, in the process, help some small businesses also hurt by the pandemic.

The Foundation4Love’s “Local 10K” campaign has selected a dozen southern Maine businesses, purchasing $1,000 of product from each. The goods or food will be redistributed to cancer patients in the form of gift boxes.

“We see what’s going on with the businesses hurting. We’re a small business. We get it,” Robert said. “Then we also have this community of cancer patients every day that are hurting. I see it every day as a nurse. So we asked, ‘How can we support our community, like Foundation4Love does, and still give back to the cancer population?’

“That’s when we put our heads together and said why don’t we purchase $1,000 from each business we choose and from the goods we get we’ll create love packages and designate patients who really need that and distribute those to our New England Cancer Specialist patients in our Scarborough and Kennebunk locations.”

Victoria Foley, the director of marketing at New England Cancer Specialists, said such benevolence during and after cancer treatments “means so much and perhaps now even more than other time. Working with Sarah and Leah is deeply moving for these people and patients. It really is a boost that means a lot during a challenging time.”

Donations are being accepted for the Local 10K through the end of the month at the nonprofit’s website, foundation4love.org. The gift boxes will be distributed to approximately 100 NECS patients beginning in June. The original plan was to partner with 10 businesses, including the sisters’ own SaltyGirl Beauty. Fund-raising has gone well enough that two additional businesses also have benefited.

“It definitely helps,” said Danielle Graffius, one of the three co-owners of Rwanda Bean, which sold 125 pounds of coffee to Foundation4Love. “And for us, we feel deeply connected to New England Cancer Specialists and we’ve had family members who were treated there and I think Foundation4Love is such a great mission. We really enjoy working with Leah and Sarah in any way we can.”

Also involved in the Love 10K program are Alisson’s Restaurant in Kennebunkport, Sweetcream Dairy (Biddeford), Dizzy Birds Rotisserie (Biddeford), River’s Edge Spa & Salon (Kennebunk), Rosemont Market and Bakery (Portland/Falmouth/Cape Elizabeth/Yarmouth), Blake Orchard (Portland), Taco Trio (South Portland), Gorgeous Gelato (Portland), Sea Love Candles (Kennebunk) and Pine Tree Seafood (Scarborough).

“It’s a way to lighten the load, support small business and provide an act of kindness,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s own cancer experience informs much of both Foundation4Love’s mission as well as the SaltyGirl brand. When the sisters decided to create their own beauty line, they were adamant they would create products free of all toxins, including sulfate, parabens and other common cosmetic preservatives. Parabens have been linked to breast cancer.

“We did it because we wanted to empower women, that’s the number one reason,” Kelly said. “When I lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes (from chemotherapy), as a woman going through cancer, having a baby, there are all sorts of milestones you can go through maybe not feeling your most beautiful. But you want to feel good to be able to go out and conquer the day. So that’s what we wanted to give, with SaltyGirl Beauty. … A clean, healthy product.”

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]

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