Four and a half years ago, Ryan Gilbert witnessed something no child should have to see.
Ryan watched his cousin Bianca Bresadola, 7, as she first became sick from osteosarcoma. He and his sister Lauren, as well as Bianca’s twin sister Mia, watched as Bianca fought valiantly against the disease, only to lose the battle on December 3, 2008.
Ryan doesn’t like to talk about his cousin, to whom he was very close. But Ryan, now 13, is showing his feelings for her in another way.
“People have been telling me that there is a doll fundraiser, but I wasn’t really into it,” Ryan said. “I heard that the money goes to the hospital for art supplies and stuff. It’s Crayola only, so I decided to give back and see what I can get. My goal was 100. The goal is 500 right now. And it’s really exciting. It’s just a fun thing to do. I know it goes for a good cause.”
Ryan first learned about the All Dolled Up Fashion Show last month. The fundraiser, put on by the Shades of Orange children’s art studio at Drivers Village, will auction off American Girl dolls to raise money for the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital Child Life Program. Bianca’s family was able to acquire a retired Mia doll, which will be auctioned off. The Child Life program uses art and play to help kids deal with their fears and meet their social and developmental needs.
“Being a boy, I wasn’t really into the doll part,” Ryan said. “But seeing what I’ve been through, my cousin died of cancer, I wanted to raise money for [Golisano]. It’s just a good thing to do.”
So Ryan and his mother, Terri, drafted a letter outlining his plan. They emailed it to friends, family members, Terri’s co-workers and anyone else they could think of that might be willing to donate. Ryan also started texting all of his friends to get them involved.
At first, Ryan’s expectations were relatively low.
“I didn’t expect a lot,” he said. “I didn’t expect a lot until people started telling other people and we actually started getting a lot at a time. I thought people would give one to two boxes at a time. But they started giving me 15 or 16 at a time. I knew we were over 100 the first day.”
Originally, Ryan intended to stop collecting on March 31. But when donations continued pouring in, he decided to keep collecting up until the fundraiser on April 21. He already has more than 320 boxes of crayons. Once he’s collected them all, Ryan said he will be able to personally deliver them to Golisano Children’s Hospital.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Ryan said. “I bet they’ll be like, ‘whoa.’ They’ll be so excited.”
While 500 boxes seems like a lot of crayons, Golisano will likely go through the boxes quickly; Terri Gilbert said the hospital, while it can wash and reuse some things like markers and paints, has to dispose of used crayons due to the risk of infection and the compromised immune systems of the patients.
“They can’t share,” Terri said. “If the four of them were in a room coloring, we couldn’t give those crayons to someone else when they were done because of all the germs. So they go through a lot of Crayola products up there.”
Ryan, Lauren and Mia would often spend time coloring with Bianca, so Ryan’s efforts hit particularly close to home.
“He understands what it’s like to go through it and what it means to need to have some fun and not think about why they’re there,” Terri said. “It takes their minds off it, not just the patients, but the kids that are with them. I’m really proud of him for doing this.”
Both Ryan and Terri said the project, while poignant, was also fun; they enjoyed seeing the new products Crayola had put out since 2008.
“It’s exciting, too, because we keep getting different things, like glitter crayons, or triangle crayons, things they didn’t have when the four of them were little,” Terri said.
“I’ve never seen half of those that are out there,” Ryan said. “There are always new ones. There’s a lot of different stuff.”
Ryan is still accepting donations. To donate, call 439-4610 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations will be accepted until April 21. If you can’t drop off crayons, the Gilberts will accept monetary donations and do the shopping for you.
“It’s giving love and care for everybody there,” he said. “I know that there’s hope for them. To give them a little fun before some of them pass, just like Bianca.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.