HAWTHORNE, NJ - Two months of planning in the making and the Light Up Hawthorne event culminated on the evening of August 26th. The town of Hawthorne was illuminated with the countless lanterns set up around the porch covered homes, and the Vigilanti family couldn't have been happier to witness the overwhelming support from family, friends and strangers alike.
While Diane has been battling metastatic breast cancer, she has selflessly been concerned with the well-being of her family and friends. "I have been laid up for over a month, very sick. The whole time, I was worried about my husband and my kids." Diane continued sharing how the impact of others have helped bring her some peace during these difficult times. "Friends have offered to babysit while I was in the hospital, and deliveries from the meal train helped my husband and kids while I wasn't able to be there."
Diane received a blood transfusion the day before the Light Up Hawthorne event, which she explained led to her feeling better and able to participate in the night. After her recent radiation, she had shared that she was in much less back pain.
Organizers Billie Jean Leitman and Amanda Lupino were thrilled to share that the fundraising total had reached $17,000 by the evening of the event. Lupino came up with the idea for a lantern lighting and started off with just 500 bags. In no time, things took off. The need for more bags far exceeded what they aniticipated, totally over 4,800 bags sold. 8 year old Brody's classmates helped to pack and deliver bags to Hawthorne residents who purchased their bags via Facebook and Venmo.
Lanterns were prepared, sold and distributed by not only the organizers of this event, but the many friends of Diane's oldest son, Brody. Many of his classmates took part in selling the lantern bags at lemonade stands sprinkled throughout the town. Two students from the middle school sold mask mates they created, and donated their earnings to Diane. As of Wednesday, they single-handedly raised $87. Last month, another group of Hawthorne children made and sold bracelets, raising $578.
At the beginning of the event, Lupino held back tears. "I am honestly overwhelmed with joy when I think about the support of the community I live in. I’m so proud and cannot believe the love we are seeing!" Organizers were stamping bags late into Wednesday night to accommodate the last minute requests for more lanterns.
Outside of the group of wonderful friends that have done so much to help the Vigilanti family were many people who have never even met Diane face to face. She spoke about the love and support she has received from complete strangers within the town, and how they have unexpectedly helped change her life.
Diane embraced her friends from the Ponte Crew Moms' group who planned this event in her honor. While hugging them closely, she told them "I don't know what I'd do if I never met you girls." Diane continued to share that these women have been more than just friends or even family to her.
Her husband Vinny reflected on Diane's recent medical journey. He explained that they now have a new oncologist and are attempting a new medicine, after little luck with previous medicine. She has just received her third round of treatment. "We are all keeping our fingers crossed on this one!" Vinny shared. "Today has been a long day," he went on, but was so ecstatic to see the overwhelming support from neighbors and strangers alike.
A limo was donated so that Diane could ride around town in style. The thunder of applause from front porches and sidewalks filled the air as Diane rode through town to witness the lanterns lit up in her honor.
Among the many Hawthorne residents present were the Hawthorne Volunteer Ambulance and Fire Department, as well as the Fair Lawn Fire Department. Pink Heals North Jersey brought a brightly colored fire truck which Diane later signed. Pink Heals has a fleet of pink fire trucks that tour the country to raise awareness of cancer support.
Organizers and close friends Amanda Marshall, Amanda Lupino and Billie Jean Leitman shared their sentiments from the experiences they've had with fellow Hawthorne residents. "We are so excited for the Vigilanti family to see the overwhelming love and support that our community has for them. Each light is a beacon of love and support for Diane. We are in awe of her bravery and strength. She is beautiful inside and out."
All monies raised will go to help the Vigilanti family pay for ongoing medical bills towards Diane's cancer treatments and radiation of her hip and spine. Funds will also be allocated towards a new apartment for this loving family of four. "We were hoping to move in the near future. We are on the third floor and its getting harder to walk up the steps," Diane said.
The phrase "Hawthorne Strong" was most evident on the night of Light Up Hawthorne event. Filled with caring and selfless people, this town exemplified the definition of community through their participation in supporting Diane Vigilanti.