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St. Teresa students rally for cancer-stricken classmate

Abby Hanley (left) and Geri-Lynn Marche at the celebration for St. Teresa students’ t-shirt sale headed by the two girls. The school raised $3,500 for Austin Whittom’s family. [elena maystruk / the observer]

The latest orange-tinted community effort for local boy Austin Whittom raised $3,500 thanks to the efforts of two of his St. Teresa school classmates, Abby Hanley and Geri-Lynn Marche.

“It all started out when Austin came back from school from getting all of his tests done,” said Hanley.

Abby Hanley (left) and Geri-Lynn Marche at the celebration for St. Teresa students’ t-shirt sale headed by the two girls. The school raised $3,500 for Austin Whittom’s family. [elena maystruk / the observer]
Abby Hanley (left) and Geri-Lynn Marche at the celebration for St. Teresa students’ t-shirt sale headed by the two girls. The school raised $3,500 for Austin Whittom’s family. [elena maystruk / the observer]
“It was September 24, I think,” Marche chimed in.

“It was the actual day of the Terry Fox Run and I remember him coming up to a few of us and saying, ‘It’s kind of weird how today is the Terry Fox Run and I’m diagnosed with cancer again.’ And then that day he wasn’t supposed to be at school so he came out to lunch with us, all of his friends and we all supported him.”

Hanley continued, “About two days after, Geri-Lynn and I were talking and had the same idea to start a fundraiser for Austin and his family.”

The two eighth-grade girls approached the school council with an idea for a t-shirt sale to generate funds for Austin’s family to help ease their financial burdens. With sponsorship from A&W Restaurants, who created the bright t-shirts, the girls sold 250 shirts ($15 for adult sizes and $10 for children’s).

“It feels really good because we’re helping out someone who needs the money,” said Marche while at the A&W in St. Jacobs. Dozens of students crowded into the small restaurant December 13 to celebrate the achievement, a sea of bright orange as kids celebrated.

Previous orange campaigns, where youth bought and sold laces and wristbands of a similar fluorescent colour, were first started by players at the Woolwich Minor Hockey Association where Austin played before his illness.

Orange is a signature colour of Austin’s disease, leukemia; he was diagnosed in May 2012. Austin was declared cancer-free and in remission on October 26 of the same year, but in September tests showed his cancer was back.

All of the efforts have had similar uptake from the community.

Teachers Tammy Starr, and Mary Baldasaro helped the girls with the effort.

“We had outstanding support from the parent and school community. Some of the parents even sponsored t-shirts for students who might not otherwise have been able to afford them so that every single child in the school was able to wear a t-shirt,” Baldasaro said.

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