The plan was to go to the post office.
In late fall, Burbank resident Meredith Swierczynski and her family planned to commemorate her daughter, Evelyn, by collecting donated packages of books and bringing them to a storage unit to be organized, as had been done for the past two years.
Evelyn, or “Evie,” was a Burbank High School student and an avid reader before her death, caused by leukemia, on Oct. 30, 2018. Since then, her family has held an annual book drive to collect donations for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where the 15-year-old was treated after her diagnosis. Part of that ritual is going to the post office to pick up donations.
This year, the post office called them.
You need to come and pick up the packages — today, a worker said; there isn’t any more space to hold them. About a week into the book drive, the Swierczynskis had received at least 150 packages, according to Meredith. She and her family — which includes her husband, Duane, and son, Parker — spent the day opening boxes and reading notes that had been included in them. Complete strangers sent dozens of books.
And they kept coming. Though the book drive was scheduled to conclude Dec. 4, donors continued to send packages. It took the family some time to count all of them, with the process stalling after all three members tested positive for COVID-19 — they’ve since recovered — but Meredith Swierczynski reported they have exceeded their 2,000-book goal. The family collected roughly 2,000 books in 2019 as well.
“People who never met [Evie] were touched by her story, whether they heard it from someone who shared our story or Duane posted a tweet,” Swierczynski said. “Complete strangers were sending books to honor our daughter and support our book drive. … It was a really beautiful way to spend a really, really hard day.”
She added that the books were donated to CHLA last week. After spending some time in quarantine, the items will be given to patients and caregivers for free through the hospital’s Literally Healing program, of which Evie was a beneficiary.
The Swierczynskis partnered with local bookstore Dark Delicacies, as well as small bookstores in Texas and Pennsylvania, allowing donors to support small businesses during the pandemic while contributing to a charitable cause.
“A lot of people also said, ‘Thank you so much for having something concrete,’” Meredith Swierczynski said. “Giving an actual thing is so nice as opposed to just donating $100 somewhere. … A lot of people really appreciated that.”
While the family has held book drives — as well as a blood drive to honor Evie’s birthday in July — every year since 2018, Swierczynski admitted that this year was the first year she felt she could fully engage with the event. She said that the first time they held the book drive, soon after Evie’s death, she felt so much grief that she didn’t remember dropping off the donations.
In later years of the drive, the bookstores the family partnered with would handle the packaging of the donated items.
”It was [happening] around me, and while I was sharing posts about it, I wasn’t physically doing the work,” Swierczynski said. “So this year was nice to be really [getting] my hands dirty.”
“It gave me something to do during a time when there wasn’t much to be done,” she added, “and idle hands can really make a person very focused on the things that they can’t control, that they can’t change, so this is something that I was able to focus my time and energy on.”
The mother said she wants to thank the Burbank community and everyone who has donated to the drive, adding that she hopes people will honor her daughter by treating others with kindness, as she would.
“Sometimes I would have to sit down and just be overwhelmed by emotion, because I know my daughter’s spirit is touching people to do something good,” she said.