GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's a widely agreed upon opinion: Holidays are best spent with family. However, for many patients at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, traveling to be with their loved ones isn't an option.
17-year-old Olivia Ryzenga and her family saw this reality first hand two years ago when Olivia was hospitalized over her mixed connective tissue disease.
"It was really upsetting, to be honest. I had an amazing staff to take care of me. Nurse Dawn was awesome and he always took care of me and everything and made me laugh, but it was sad because you’re alone," she explained.
Her mother Elizabeth agreed, explaining that the family was then experiencing true loneliness for the first time.
"It was heartbreaking because you can’t fix that. You can’t fix their illness. You can’t fix that sense of loneliness but you can do something with it," she said, foreshadowing her family's donation plans.
When Olivia was in the hospital over the holidays, she said she remembered thinking about one thing in particular: pie.
"I want a piece of pie!" she laughed.
When she was released from the hospital, she remembered the intensity of her craving for not only pie but community while getting treatment. The following year, she, her mother and the rest of their family started a Facebook fundraiser, aiming to bring pies to the sixth floor of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, the level she resided in.
"I hope that the people that are in the hospital this holiday realize that there’s an entire community of people that care," Elizabeth said.
With more money coming in, the group decided to donate toys and coloring items to the patients as well, and it was deemed a success. However, when the team gathered this year to pull off the same feat, they saw there was much more they could do.
"After 24 hours we realized we could reach way more than one floor and way more than two, and we discussed [if we should go for the whole hospital]. We decided [to try]. It's go big or go home," Elizabeth explained when discussing the online fundraiser.
The family paired up with local businesses Russ' Restaurants and Cakabakery for pie purchases, both companies offering an aid or discount. Russ' Restaurants made 180 pies, telling the family it was their largest pie order to date in its 85-year history. Cakabakery made custom, gluten-free pies for patients with dietary restrictions.
Meijer also jumped on the bandwagon, helping Olivia and Elizabeth purchase cool whip topping for the desserts, providing the family with coupons to get the best deals. The family said they shopped heavily at Five Below for their toys and gifts for the kids.
The pies will make their rounds to patients, staff and parents on Thanksgiving, which includes 6-year-old Trevor Koepke and his mother Jaime, who are spending their first holiday in the hospital, as he fights cystic fibrosis and pneumonia.
"There are people that can’t even be home because they have no choice but to be here, so it's nice to know that there's a lot of kindness still," Jaime said.
Olivia said the fundraiser will continue next year.
"I know that we're going to keep doing this. We don't give up, that's just our thing. We don't give up. We love helping people. Everyone in the community helped out, and I know that if it got this big this year, it’s only gonna get bigger next year," she said.
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