Heading out to run a quick errand should be simple as hopping in the car. For Mary and Greg Pellegrino, however, it’s an overwhelmingly frustrating process that keeps them home most days.
But on Saturday morning, they ventured out for good reason.
Mary carried their 8-year-old son, Bennett, out the front door, as Greg pushed Bennett’s wheelchair down the ramp and towards the blue compact SUV parked in the driveway of their Warrington home.
From there, Greg began disassembling the chair into eight parts, carefully placing each piece into the trunk like an elaborate puzzle.
At the same time, Mary soothed Bennett with words of reassurance and kissed his forehead, as she strapped him into his car seat in the back row.
The whole thing took about 10 minutes.
“That’s just getting him into the car. And once we get to where we’re going, I am taking the pieces out of the car and putting it together in a parking lot. And this could be in the heat, rain or snow,” Mary explained.
“Going somewhere shouldn’t be that miserable. If it’s one of us, it’s a complete nightmare,” she added.
Bennett has endured many challenges since he was born a micro-preemie at just 25 weeks and weighing just over a pound. By 8 months old, he had been through at least five surgeries. At a year old, he began having infantile spasms. By 3 years old, he was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare form of liver cancer.
“All of that happened within three years. Greg and I felt like we were hit with a series of sledgehammers,” Mary said.
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Bennett’s now in remission, thanks to many chemotherapy treatments. But cerebral palsy, seizures, an intellectual disability and a cortical visual impairment have left Bennett wheelchair-bound for life.
This hasn’t stopped Mary from dreaming of the big adventures for Bennett — trips to see family in Maine, going to the zoo with grandparents, visiting the beach at Asbury Park, and seeing Christmas light displays up and down the East Coast.
But for now, these adventures feel out of reach.
To safely take their son on these excursions, they first need to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van.
“I’ll feel safer with him because I know he will have a vehicle that is outfitted for his needs and where he is physically. Bennett’s wheelchair, when it’s appropriately tethered inside a vehicle, is safer and the wheelchair is tailored for him. It has the appropriate parts to be tethered to the van. Right now, Bennett is in a car seat, but that’s designed for a kid with a functional core and Bennett does not,” Mary said. “It opens up a lot more options in terms of maintaining a safe space and it also makes his body more physically accessible in case he has a seizure.”
However, the van comes with a high price tag — well over $70,000. And until they can raise enough, combined with the money they’ve been saving over the past year, those dreams are on hold.
Thankfully, they’re not doing it on their own. Support from the community, in the form of donations to their GoFundMe page, could make their dreams a reality.
Doylestown business community rallies again
The sun was shining Saturday as they drove into Doylestown, on their way to The Monkey’s Uncle to meet up with the store’s owners, Derrick and Jeanell Morgan, who had decided to donate a portion of their sales from Black Friday and Small Business Saturday towards the family’s fundraising campaign.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Morgans have stepped up to help the special needs community. Through advocacy and fundraising, they’ve rallied support for others in their time of need, including the family of Dominic Liples, an 8-year-old Doylestown boy who died after his battle with brain cancer in 2016.
After what has been a tough year and a half for small businesses, Derrick said he has a new sense of appreciation heading into the holiday season, which he and Jeanell want to pay forward.
“The community has supported us and helped us get through this difficult time and now it’s time for us to give that support back. And that’s exactly what we want to do for this family is just give them the little edge and the little bit of help they need to amplify their story and hopefully at the end of the day get exactly what they need for Bennett,” Derrick said.
When Jeanell reached out to the Pellegrinos and explained their plan, Mary said she was filled with gratitude.
“They understand the importance of what we’re trying to do and how much it means to Bennett for making his world more accessible. I think about it and it just makes me want to cry with pure thankfulness,” Mary said.
So far, through a GoFundMe page set up by Greg and his family, more than 300 donors have contributed nearly $28,000.
“It’s been overwhelming, but also not entirely surprising because I think Doylestown and the Central Bucks community is historically a community that rallies around families in need,” Mary noted. “It amplifies the feeling of the season that I don’t think we’ve had for a couple years.
If you’d like to donate, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/f/wheels-for-bennett?qid=5360924d1ac82852bd6868f6bde151a1
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Doylestown retailer Monkey's Uncle helping local family