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St. Pete woman honors lost siblings by cleaning houses of cancer patients

Joanne Braccio started Love Thy Neighbor in 2005 after losing her brother, Robert, to cancer. She lost her sister, Lois, to the same disease in February.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wiping away dirt is what Joanne Braccio does best. For more than two decades, she’s cleaning homes from top to bottom for her business, Maid To Order.

“What better thing to do than to do what I do best, and that’s clean houses,” said Braccio.

It’s the reason why she cleans that stands out.

“It is very rewarding,” said her niece, April Brandt.

Cleaning caked-on dirt, left festering due to bigger issues in life, can grow challenging. It’s often still easier than wiping aside tears.

Braccio and Brandt have done plenty of both.

“A lot of time it brings us to tears,” said Brandt. “We have to remind ourselves we’re doing this to make our loved ones proud.”

Robert, Braccio’s brother, was 26 years old when he was injured while serving in the military. He developed a brain tumor and lived another 18 years before he died from cancer in 2000.

Joanne realized while on a visit to see Robert in his final days that house cleaning had really become neglected. Understandable, considering the mounting chores related to caring for a terminal cancer patient, she learned. That experience inspired her to expand her business.

She started a nonprofit wing of Maid To Order called Love Thy Neighbor in 2005. She began cleaning houses of cancer patients and military veterans for free in honor of Robert.

“We just want to be able to help more people,” she said. “It’s something we’ll probably do for the rest of our lives.”

The mission has grown over the years. She’s now cleaning multiple houses per month and wants to add more. Brandt, who works as an office manager for her aunt, coordinates cleanings. The mission became even more important to the family when Brandt’s mother, Braccio’s sister, Lois, developed cancer as well. She died in February 2020.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d lose two siblings,” said Braccio.

Through it all, they cleaned.

“It’s what God put us on earth for,” said Braccio. “I think it’s just the neighborly thing to do.”

Brandt agrees.

“I don’t think you can even describe the feedback we get,” said Brandt. “To be able to come home to a clean home and not have to worry about anything else is indescribable.”

Ten percent of the profits from Maid To Order fund the nonprofit. In addition, a network of local companies helps offset the mission for Braccio. Inside Homes, Dan Wilson Pest Control and Martin Carpenter Air Conditioning are just a few of the companies that have joined forces with Love Thy Neighbor. Anyone in Tampa Bay stricken with cancer and undergoing treatments, a wounded veteran, or a single parent with terminally ill or handicapped children are eligible for cleaning services from Love Thy Neighbor.

Taking time away from other paying jobs is worth it to her because she understands the pain families feel while watching loved ones succumb to cancer.

“Cancer treatments left me with too little energy for home cleaning chores,” wrote a cancer patient on Braccio’s Love Thy Neighbor website. “Referred by my doctor's staff to the volunteer professional people with Love Thy Neighbor, they did dishes, vacuuming, dusting, laundry — they were wonderful.”

Braccio has been cleaning professionally for over three decades. The Women’s Service League St. Pete honored Braccio with its Spirit of Service award in 2017. If you or a loved one are suffering from cancer and would like help with house cleaning, contact Joanne at joanne@maidtoorderfl.com.

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