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Money raised for girl with leukemia

March 13, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Friday was an exceptionally good day for 7-year-old Caitlin Wright.

In her hands was a check.

In front of her sat 400 classmates she had not seen in months.

And in her ears were excited screams from the students at Benjamin Chambers Elementary School in Chambersburg who learned that in one week they raised $2,132 to help Caitlin battle cancer.

"How do you feel today, honey?" Caitlin's mom Jamie Vanderau asked as the excitement waned.

Slowly, Caitlin lifted her right hand, stuck her thumb in the air and smiled.

Caitlin has not had many good days since she was diagnosed with leukemia in December.

The last few months have been difficult for her family, between losing their home and weekly doctors appointments.

Yet Vanderau said she never expected the generosity the school showed her daughter on Friday.

Doing something for Caitlin was an automatic thought for her teacher, Denise Pearson, and Principal Gladys Leon.

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Pearson, who tutors Caitlin after school in her free time, said her heart broke the day she learned Caitlin was sick with leukemia.

Every day, the students would ask when their friend would be back in class, she said. Every day, she would tell them, "soon."

"They didn't really understand how sick Caitlin was until the letters went out asking for coins," Pearson said.

Leon said "Coins for Caitlin" kicked off on a Monday. By Friday, there was more money than anyone ever imagined.

"I never in a million years would have thought that in this difficult economic time these children could give so much," she said. "It goes to show the hearts these children have."

Pearson said her class alone raised more than $500.

Some children gave their entire savings to the cause, she said.

"There is a girl in my class who gave all the money she was saving for Disney World to Caitlin, so much that her father had to carry in all the coins," she said. "Caitlin was one of her first friends at the new school and she wanted to show Caitlin the same kindness Caitlin showed her."

To see the generosity of his community brought Caitlin's stepfather Brad Coffey to tears.

"I have just one thing to say," he said. "Thank you."

Vanderau said Caitlin is improving daily and hopes to be back in school before the end of the school year.

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