By AMY WENGER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The weeks leading up to the Christmas season signaled the anticipation of holiday festivities, and for the townspeople of Wakarusa, that sentiment was no different.
But for one local family, the season marked the beginning of one little boy’s medical battle, and prayers for wellness, hope and triumph to be restored to him.
Just as the holiday season was beginning, Simon Blanchard’s family learned that he was afflicted with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, also known as ALL. It is a type of cancer most often found in children, through which sickened white blood cells multiply rampantly in a person’s bone marrow, essentially crowding out the healthy cells. With early detection and treatment, the cure rate is approximately 80 percent.
So while most people were planning Thanksgiving and Christmas affairs, shopping for gifts, and delighting in the revelry of festivities, the Blanchards were faced with the prospect of coordinating a carefully orchestrated schedule of chemotherapy treatments, travels to both Riley Children’s Hospital and Memorial Hospital, and trying to maintain a new sense of normalcy. It also became imperative for the family to avoid exposure to even the slightest of illnesses, for concern of what could happen to Simon’s fragile immune system.
Meanwhile, as word of Simon’s condition began to stream about town, the people of Wakarusa did not hesitate to come forward in droves, to do what the community never fails to do to rescue one of its own. They have showered the Blanchard family with an outpouring of generosity and gestures of financial sustenance.
Simon’s teachers, classmates and friends at Wakarusa Elementary organized the sale of “Suckers for Simon,” which also featured a raffle offering NorthWood apparel and gift baskets. The original goal was to raise $750, yet when all was said and done, there were 1,500 suckers sold and $2,700 in proceeds for assistance to the Blanchards.
Jan Snider, Simon’s kindergarten teacher at Wakarusa Elementary, teared up as she talked about the overwhelming empathy and concern that the children and their families have shown for Simon. “My class has been fabulously heartwarming,” she said. “They adore Simon. He is just one of those really neat kids ... not just because of his illness. They love him and just talk about him often.”
She said that her students have been exceptionally gracious in ensuring that Simon and his family would have a joyful Christmas. “Many brought presents for me to deliver to him,” she said. “They even brought presents for his little sister, too. I still receive something almost daily that the students have made for him, whether it is pictures they have drawn, homemade books for him, well-loved treasures of their own they want to give to him.”
One local family even gifted the Blanchards with an iPad Mini, and the class has enjoyed keeping in touch with Simon via Skype. Even so, the class cherishes the occasions when Simon is well enough to visit his friends at school.
“On his first visit, the kiddos all wore face masks to prevent germ spread, so he didn’t feel so funny being the only one with a mask,” Snider said. “We drew pictures and wrote messages, mostly ‘I Love You Simon,’ on the front of the masks.”
Snider also added that the week after Christmas vacation, Simon was able to participate in class for a few hours at various times while his treatment was briefly delayed. “About an hour into his stay, his hat was off, and things were back to normal for him and his classmates!”
To keep the momentum of kindness moving onward and upward, there are several more opportunities to help Simon, his parents, Bryon and Tonya, and his younger sister, Rowan.
• There will be a bake sale taking place on Friday at NorthWood High School, where purchases can be made during the baseball team’s chili supper event and also while the boys’ basketball game is occuring. The time frame is expected to be from 5 to 9:00 p.m., or until all of the goods are sold.
Those who wish to donate items for the bake sale are asked to drop them off at Wakarusa Elementary School on Thursday or Friday until 3 p.m. It is also being requested that offerings be clearly labeled. Further questions may be directed to Shelly Newcomer by calling (574) 575-5713 or 862-2980.
A few suggested items that would be welcomed include brownies, cinnamon rolls, cookies, “puppy chow,” cakes, party mixes, caramel corn and breads. Parents of Wakarusa Elementary students were sent an e-mail with event details, and for those who are not able to bring baked items, monetary donations can be provided to the school to allow them to purchase additional treats.
• Also being planned in the coming weeks is a springtime fundraising endeavor.
On March 23, there will be a Nelson’s Chicken and Pit-Tato sale, which will begin at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Ind. 19 and C.R. 40. Advance tickets can be purchased at Richmond’s Feed.
• Interra Credit Union has also volunteered its support by working to establish a benefit fund for the Blanchard family, and contributions can be given through Interra during their regular business hours.
• As the students of Wakarusa Elementary settle back into their classes following their Christmas break, they will learn of further chances to help their friend and schoolmate. Order forms will be distributed to the children with information on how to purchase a “Team Simon” T-shirt.
Although not yet finalized, there are tentative arrangements to have the school participate in another “Suckers for Simon” occasion, possibly along with some themed “spirit days” in the near future.