A first-grader at Notre Dame Academy in Buffalo recently spearheaded a collection to provide entertainment for and put smiles on faces of children undergoing treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Grace Mallaber organized a collection of 20 boxes of art supplies to be donated to the hospital's pediatric wing.
Kim Suminski, principal of Notre Dame Academy, said Grace started a school-wide effort to collect a total of about 20 paper-sized boxes of art supplies. "We had carloads going to Roswell, plus there was so much money (in donations) that came in on top of it," Suminski said. "She did a really great job."
According to Suminski, Grace was inspired to begin this collection because her grandfather, with whom she is very close, was dealing with a health issue. Since this issue touched her own life, she decided to give back to people and make her grandfather proud of her for helping other children.
"She came in and we talked, and she said that she wanted to help the children at Roswell that were either waiting for surgery or receiving treatment, and give them something fun to do," Suminski said. "We wrote a letter and put it out to the faculty, staff and all the students here at Notre Dame, and they started to come in - all of these little pom-poms, to glue sticks, to paint, to making bracelets."
Initially, the collection was supposed to last for only one week, but so many supplies came in that adults at the school decided to extend the deadline. Soon, money and other donations from people in their South Buffalo neighborhood began to come in as well. Once they brought them in, not only did they fill the hospital's supply closet, they needed to start another one since the supplies did not all fit.
Although the community did contribute, most of the donations came from Notre Dame Academy. The collection started on a Monday, and the same students came that Monday, as well as the following Tuesday through Friday, to keep adding to the collection. Suminski said since cancer is an issue that touches so many lives, Roswell Park has affected most Western New Yorkers in some way.
"We gave them money for the future, so they could restock," Suminski said. "The patients are keeping busy and their minds off of their situation, and they're making beautiful pictures and art. It was all inspired by a first-grader who wanted to make her grandpa proud of her ... This was because a first-grader wanted to do something nice, and everyone saw her golden heart."
Robin Nusbaum, coordinator of Carly's Club at Roswell Park, said Grace's mother, Peggy, contacted Nusbaum to say that her daughter wanted to organize a fundraiser for Roswell, and needed some ideas for what the unit and the children there might need. Together, they came up with the idea of re-stocking the cupboard at Roswell full of arts and craft supplies, which all the pediatric patients may use.
"The kids can use (them) at any point in time, whether they're here for an outpatient appointment or for an extended stay as an inpatient," said Nusbaum. "It ranges from construction paper, markers, crayons and colored pencils to glue, beads, feathers and foam stick-ons, so they can kind of craft to their heart's delight, if you will. That fit in really well with what Grace wanted to do."
Carly's Club, founded in 2002, raises funds for pediatric cancer research, arranges many community events for the youngest patients at Roswell and provides support for their families. Its namesake is Carly Collard Cottone, who in 1999 was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 8. Carly lost both of her own biological parents to cancer and, although she fought back, she lost her battle in 2002.
Nusbaum said was initially not sure how the donations were going to go, but was pleasantly surprised. "The boxes just kind of kept coming non-stop out of the car," she recalled. "Grace really rallied her whole school behind her. I originally thought it might have just been some of her friends, her family, maybe her classmates and so forth, but it was the whole school that participated. It was a school wide effort and something that I thought was really quite impressive for a first-grader to be able to (do)."
All donated supplies were brand-new, which Roswell Park requires to make sure the items are sanitary for infectious control reasons. Nusbaum called Notre Dame Academy's efforts an "extremely generous donation" and very valuable not only in the amount given, but also in terms of the impact it has on the children. Creating art is a form of therapy, even if the patients may not think or feel that it is.
"Just being able to kind of get their mind off of things and occupy their time, it decreases their stress and lowers their levels of anxiety," Nusbaum said. "It just gives them an opportunity to feel a little normal and regain that sense of normalcy, even if they're in an abnormal environment. It's been really wonderful, and a lot of the supplies they brought in were supplies that we were lacking."
"It was an overwhelming experience, very emotional, to know that we came together as such a family and we supported a great cause. Because of what all of these students did, there are children who are sick that are having a good time," Suminski commented. "We're a pretty large school, and for us to have over 100 percent support on something that really has touched somebody and their family somewhere, the whole school came together as one to give back to the community."