Abigail Calandra was barely three years old when baby Gracie died in October 2005. “She was my one and only sister. Now I have two brothers.” After a tender pause Abby’s brown eyes danced. “It kinda feels like I’m the only mellow child.” Her mother couldn’t help but giggle. Abby’s personality radiates energy. And she channels it toward altruistic ends.
Losing something as precious as a baby sister did not harden Abby’s giving heart. Her charitable ways surfaced at a cookie decorating party hosted by her mother as school opened for Abby’s second-grade year. “She saw me write ‘no hostess gifts’ on the invitations and asked what that meant,” said Tanya Calandra. When Abby learned people often bring gifts when invited to a party, she suggested her mother ask their guests to bring food and toys for the poor instead. Poverello House would be the first of many beneficiaries.
“At Christmastime I gave presents to the homeless people in the streets,” said Abby. With her mother’s help, Abby decorated gift bags and stuffed them with a pouch of hot chocolate, homemade brownie, granola bar, fresh orange, tissue pack and two dollars. She and her mother and her little brothers left home with about a dozen bags and drove all over Fresno looking for people standing on street corners holding “Please Help” signs. “I took little bags,” she said excitedly. “We handed them out of the window of our car. One man was really excited about the hot chocolate!” With just one bag left and no more needy souls to be found, they headed home. “Me and my cousin are gonna do it again this year!”
Early last spring a news report beckoned the little philanthropist to action yet again. When Abby learned students in Haiti did not have the most basic school supplies after the earthquake, she swept her house collecting pencils. But she didn’t stop there. The determined little girl took an empty diaper box to school and asked all of the second-grade classrooms to fill it with pencils for the school children in Haiti. Two days later Abby asked for another box, to which her mother replied, “It’s already full? You’re kidding!” Abby collected and shipped an estimated 6,000 pencils.
Abby celebrated her eighth birthday on August 8, but at her party she didn’t open presents she planned to keep. “When you get a birthday present you feel good for a small amount of time, but when you do something for someone it feels good for a long time,” she said.
Much like the cards sent to invite her friends to a cookie decorating party the previous year, Abby’s birthday party invitations contained an unusual request. “Instead of getting presents, since I knew I had too many toys, I donated to Children’s Hospital in honor of my baby sister.” The birthday girl made a sacrifice uncharacteristic of 8-year-olds. She chose to give rather than receive.
Abby donated $300 to Children's Hospital Central California with no strings attached, and only recently discovered her humble gift was added to an anonymous $100,000 contribution, and used to promote Children’s hand hygiene program. When asked if supporting hand hygiene made her happy, she bounced in her chair and said, “It makes me really happy!”
Why would a child be excited about something as unglamorous as hand hygiene? Her mother knew the answer. She laughed at her daughter’s enthusiastic response and said, “Abby, tell us what you took to your teacher the first day of school.”
“Two really big pumps of hand gel and two jugs of Clorox wipes,” she declared. When asked the reason for donating those particular items, she bounced more fervently in her chair, and said, “To stay healthy!”
Though duly sheltered from germs, Abby is not secluded from living life in the open. “My mom told me, ‘Sometimes little kids can make a big impact.’” The homeless in Fresno and the school children in Haiti would agree. Abby may bounce at the thought of promoting hand hygiene, but what really jumps out is her joy at each opportunity to give.
A humble donation of $300 may not earn the benefactor a place on our new donor wall, but Abby’s sacrificial gift and Gracie’s precious life will never be forgotten.
Read about the Hand Hygiene Campaign at Children's.