Maggie Meyers was awakened at the tender age of eight. She looked up through sleepy eyes as her grieving parents sat on the edge of her bed in Perkasie, Pennsylvania in the United States and tried their best to somehow deliver the tragic news they themselves were struggling to process.
How, Cathleen and Ryan must have agonised, do we tell our precious girl who adores her Uncle Gerry that he was gone?
How do we break it to our child the man who brought her joy with his love and attentiveness, and made her belly laugh by simply pulling up his suit pants legs to reveal the funky colored socks dotted with crocodiles, cats, flying pigs, and crazy patterns he wore daily, was shot dead by would-be carjackers in front of his Philadelphia home and, unimaginably, in front of his screaming two-year-old daughter?
"We just tried to explain it to her as best as you can to someone that young," Cathleen Grandzol said of her brother's death four years ago at age 38. "It was hard. Very hard. Gerry spent lots of time with Maggie. He used to take her to the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra concerts. And she really looked forward to seeing what kind of crazy socks he had on."
Shock and tears turned into grieving and reality. At the funeral, and later at the family gathering, there were tributes by Grandzol's family and friends, as many of them pulled up their pants legs to reveal the kinds of funny socks he used to wear.
Three days later, a little girl did her best to turn heartbreak into helpfulness. Civic minded even at that tender age, she held a fundraiser for The Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, in Chalfont, that cares for injured or orphaned wildlife.She first approached her mom with an idea.
"Maggie said she wanted to do a socks collection drive in memory of her Uncle Gerry and give them to people who can't afford their own socks," Cathleen recalled. "We just felt it was a great idea to honour Gerry."
Maggie and her parents teamed up with Mitzvah Circle Foundation, a nonprofit organisation based in Norristown which collects, delivers, and distributes packages containing clothing, shoes, diapers, feminine hygiene products, books, household goods, toiletries, and more.
From September through early November each year, Maggie's project, called For Love of Socks, hold fundraisers and sock collection drives in her community. Maggie's idea from the heart has placed more than 15,000 pairs of socks on those who need them most.
Somewhere up there, and I suspect still wearing those funky socks, a little girl's uncle is smiling. Proudly.
"I just love collecting the socks," said Maggie, a seventh-grader at Pennridge North Middle School. "We've gotten a bunch of cool ones, like ones with pizzas and cats and Mandalorian kids socks. It's neat seeing how the community is helping.
"And it reminds me of how Uncle Gerry was really funny and fun to hang out with. I just thought it was a way to do something good."
Just like her uncle, who grew up in Doylestown and who helped out in Philadelphia with Project HOME, a programme offering permanent, subsidised housing for individuals and families who'd been homeless.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020, Maggie was ailing. All of 11 years old, all of her family worried sick. One day, she was fine. The next, she was hunched over in agony with pain all over her body. She's a Girl Scout, Troop 309. Be prepared? Nothing could have prepared her for this. A good kid, good student. Good grief, how could this be happening?
At The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, they ran tests and determined Maggie suffers from Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which causes painful inflammation, most specifically swelling of the joints. She also suffers from a byproduct condition called Macrophage Activation Syndrome, a massive inflammatory response that overwhelms the body and can in some cases damage the heart, lungs, spleen, and kidneys. The medication she takes makes her feel OK.
But sometimes, the best medicine is dispensed not by tablet or syringe, but by a few heartfelt words.During her two-week stay at CHOP last year, Maggie was regularly visited by a certified child life specialist, whose goal is to reduce the stress and anxiety children and families may experience. Maggie was casually chatting with the woman in her hospital room when she mentioned her socks collection project.
The woman's eyes widened.
"Oh my!" Cathleen recalls the child life specialist saying. "You've helped so many of our patients! Maggie, you should be very proud of how you've helped so many people by collecting those socks for them. What you've done for them is very impressive. We're very proud of you here."
As is somebody probably still wearing those funny socks. Up there. – Bucks County Courier Times/Tribune News Service