WELLSVILLE - For most people, the Christmas holiday brings cheer and happy times, but there are many for whom it brings memories of lost loved ones.
For Richard Salsberry, the holiday brings a mixture of bittersweet feelings as he remembers his daughter, Lindsey, who died from a rare type of cancer at the age of 21 but whose memory is perpetuated each year with a toy drive for children undergoing medical treatments.
Lindsey was diagnosed at the age of 19 with a cancer known as MPNST after an MRI showed the pain she was suffering in her leg was actually a tumor on the sciatic nerve. The 2004 Wellsville High School graduate ultimately succumbed to the disease after it spread first to her lungs and then her brain within 22 months of her diagnosis.
Throughout her ordeal, Lindsey was treated at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, and the last year prior to her death, she made a comment to her dad that they should have gotten a present for a 9-year-old girl who had to spend Christmas in the hospital.
"It blossomed from there," Salsberry said of the program he began in his daughter's memory which is now in its fourth year.
The first year, he collected toys just for the children being treated in the oncology department and their siblings, who often are also spending time at the hospital during the holidays.
The next year, he took 100 toys and he said, "It was so easy to get 100 toys (donated), I asked (a representative) at the hospital how many kids were usually hospitalized at Christmas and she said 150 to 160. My next year's goal was a toy for every child."
Last year, about 1,300 toys were distributed, and Salsberry said, "They just ran out in mid-October of what we brought last year."
In the past three years, Salsberry has more than met his goal, with 4,000 toys donated by people from throughout the county.
"Every child is taken care of. Even if you have the means, you don't have the time (to shop) if you have a child with cancer," he said.
This year, he has plans of adding East Liverpool City Hospital to the recipient list, saying its pediatric ward has about 15 beds and he already has 200 toys in his living room that have been donated toward this year's campaign.
Again this year, he has been advised third- and fourth-grade students at Calcutta Elementary School will bring in toys for Lindsey's project instead of holding a gift exchange among themselves and said Rogers Elementary School is reportedly going to do the same.
Salsberry is a teacher at Beaver Local Middle School, and he said it is his understanding students there are going to participate this year. He expects the Interact Club to participate.
In past years, the welding department at the County Career Center has also donated toys, he said.
A recent spaghetti dinner raised $1,400 for toys.
Salsberry said with a laugh that he has a good supply of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders games but if anyone donates more, they will be distributed.
Although toys for all ages are welcome, Salsberry said there is sometimes a scarcity of donated items for infants and older teens between 15 and 18, noting that a young adult treatment program was actually started after Lindsey was treated at Children's for those between 18-25.
"There was a lot learned from her being there," he said with emotion.
Toys are taken to the hospital between Dec. 21 and 22, so those wishing to donate still have time. Toys can be dropped off at Beaver Local Middle School, Tonda's Place in Wellsville or CF Bank in Wellsville.
He can also be contacted at email@example.com for more information.
Salsberry is confident that he will again have to "walk sideways" in his living room to maneuver through the toys donated in his daughter's memory.
"The goodness of the people of this area is the beauty of living in a small community."