YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Last year, Amanda Carlson, a Yorktown Heights teenager, fell ill with an E. coli infection and had to be hospitalized for 17 days. During her time there, the staff at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla took such good care of her that Amanda and her family knew once she recovered, they had to give back.
“Last year, we did a huge fundraiser that my mom organized,” said Maria Carlson, Amanda’s mother, “and we did a GoFundMe page and collected money and donated a whole Nintendo system to the hospital for the kids.”
As good as it felt to make that donation last year, the Carlson family was only just getting started.
“Amanda really wanted to do something to give back to the kids there and to give back to the hospital,” Maria said.
With that in mind, Amanda gathered together the members of Girl Scout Troop 2735, of which she is a member. She put together a holiday party for the other troops in the Lakeland Central School District and asked every guest to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to the hospital. Maria Carlson did everything she could to get the word out about the event beforehand, including spreading the news on social media.
“I’m a teacher,” she said, “and I teach in a different community, but even people I teach with would come to my classroom door and hand me a bag of stuff because they saw it advertised on my Facebook page.”
The response, she said, was beyond anything she had expected.
“We were getting donations from everywhere,” she said. “And we were getting them for all age groups, from infants through teenage boys and girls. We were getting iTunes cards and Amazon gift cards, video games, sports apparel, board games, movies, you name it.”
When putting the word out, Maria Carlson also noted that both she and Amanda wanted to make the drive as inclusive as possible.
“It was really important to both of us that all of the age groups in the hospital were considered,” Maria Carlson said. “It’s so easy for people, when they think of a children’s hospital, to think of the newborns and the 3-year-olds and the 5-year-olds and sometimes the tweens and the teens get forgotten. So when people would ask me, ‘What can I donate?,’ I would say, ‘Do something for the older girls and the older boys!’ ”
By the time the party had wrapped up and all of the gifts were collected, Maria Carlson realized donations had exceeded expectations.
“We were able to make a substantial donation,” Maria Carlson said. “Maria Fareri estimated the donation of toys that we gave them to be between $3,500 and $4,000.”
Maria Carlson said that, when she and Amanda, along with two girls from the troop, came to present the gifts to Maria Fareri, the hospital staff was just as amazed as they had been.
“They came out with a cart, and they couldn’t believe that they needed two carts to carry all the stuff they had,” Maria Carlson said. “They were very, very grateful.”
The success of the fundraisers over the last two years, combined with the gratitude that the family feels regarding Amanda’s treatment and recovery, has created a new Carlson family tradition.
“We want to put a positive spin on everything she went through and every year somehow do something to give back to the hospital because we are ever so grateful for them helping her to heal,” Maria Carlson said. “It’s something we’ll continue to take on every year.”
For Amanda, having experienced what it’s like to spend at least part of the holidays in a hospital bed, the investment in the hospital and the children who are still there is even more personal.
“People don’t truly understand what these kids go through on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “So I would do anything to make the kids just a little bit happier.”
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