During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it can feel like we’re all alone in our daily struggles. Stories like Crystal MacDonald’s remind us that’s not the case at all. In fact, when push comes to shove, many community members are eager to help their neighbors if we only think to ask.
Crystal is a full-time nursing student and mom to five kids in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
Her daughter Ashlyn is 11 and has severe autism. The child is non-verbal and has problems with sensory issues, which makes finding foods for her to eat difficult under the best of circumstances. When the food supply in Crystal’s local grocery store became limited she feared she’d have nothing to feed her daughter.
When Ashlyn was 4 years old they discovered she loves SpaghettiOs with meatballs. She’d occasionally eat other kid-friendly foods before COVID hit, but when in-person school changed to remote learning the child craved her regular SpaghettiOs more than ever.
“Food is a very sensory experience for her and I believe that most foods are too much, texture and taste-wise, for her,” Crystal told TODAY Food. “Once she lost her routine of school, and like so many people with autism, routine is vital to their mental health, she stopped eating other foods. I think the predictability of the texture and taste of the SpaghettiOs brings a sense of control and comfort to her in this time of chaos.”
Crystal started driving to every store in her area, buying every last can of SpaghettiOs she could find. She needs about four cans a day to keep Crystal satisfied, but often she’d arrive at the grocery store to find completely bare shelves where the product once was.
Grocery store managers tried to help by texting her when shipments were due to arrive, but eventually searching for the cans became like “a part time job” for Crystal. Desperate, she turned to “The Sun Chronicle” for help. They ran a story about local food shortages and included Crystal’s story. Within days Crystal’s phone and mail started lighting up!
Members of Crystal’s community made finding cans of SpaghettiOs for Ashlyn a priority. One person found 40 cans and sent them to the family; another ordered two cases from Amazon and had them shipped to their home. Perfect strangers described driving around to multiple stores to find the cans. When all was said and done, more than 100 cans arrived on the family’s doorstep to get them through this difficult time.
Crystal and her family were overwhelmed with gratitude by the show of solidarity. “It has been an incredible experience to feel so much love from our community,” she said. “As a parent of a special needs child, it can be a lonely existence and one that you imagine others to not quite understand. Especially in these times of such turmoil and hardship, it has been incredible to experience such kindness.”
The blessings just kept on coming. When this mom’s story reached national media, TODAY reached out to Campbell’s Soup Company, which owns SpaghettiOs, and the company quickly pledged to send out an entire year’s supply of SpaghettiOs for Ashlyn!
Crystal says the support they’ve received feels like “a light in the darkness.” She hopes to share some of that light by encouraging donations to the ARC of Bristol County, an organization that supplies services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They’ve always been a big help for Ashlyn, and the organization is currently experiencing funding issues.
“They’ve given us the most support out of this entire time and have helped so many in our community with special needs,” she said. “They need real help, and I would love if people who want to help could boost that for me.”
What a lovely way to repay a kindness. It’s so important to think of others who are going through a tough time right now. We’re not here to judge, we’re simply here to support one another any way we can.
Share this story to remind others that there’s still so much goodness in the world!
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