Landenberg fifth-grader designs and makes hats for hospitalized children
● By Steven Hoffman
One day earlier this year, Lily Tomeo was watching one of her favorite shows on television when she saw a commercial for the St. Jude's Children's Hospital. She was saddened by the images of children her own age and younger who are battling cancer and other serious illnesses. She knew right away that she wanted to do something for the youngsters who were so courageously battling for the return to good health. It didn't take her long to come up with a good idea.
For the last few years, Lily had been designing and hand-sewing winter hats and giving them out to her classmates at the Sanford School in Hockessin each November. The fifth-grader decided that her 2016 line of fleece hats would be designed for, and delivered to, children in the hospital.
Lily's mother, Lynn McKernan, explained that initially the plan was to send the hats to St. Jude's, but the family soon decided that the hats could be given to the children at the Nemours A.I. Du Pont Hospital for Children because many of the children in that hospital are local.
Before she started making the hats, Lily came up with an idea to involve many of her classmates at school. She collected $67 in donations from students at the middle school to pay for a portion of the materials that would be needed to make the hats, with Lily's family covering all the other costs.
Lily then set out to design 75 hats of various colors, styles, and designs. She diligently worked on producing the hats, designing, cutting, and sewing them during weeknights after she finished her homework and during weekends. She would make hats for boys with baseballs or eagles on them. The hats for girls were colorful and stylish, with fancy stitching and buttons. Lily would carefully check the quality of each hat after she was finished making it, and if one wasn't up to her standards it would be discarded.
Lily did all the work on the hats while continuing to do her school work at the Sanford School and enjoying some of her favorite activities, like horseback riding and trampolining. She said that her favorite classes at school are art, chorus, and band, where she plays the clarinet.
Her family was hardly surprised that the ten-year-old would take on such a big project in the middle of a school year.
Lynn fondly recalled that she and her mother, Joan Banas, started teaching Lily how to sew before she was even in kindergarten. She had a natural gift for designing and sewing. By the time Lily was in second grade, she would walk around school with a swatch with different colors and patterns so that her classmates could place orders for hats.
According to Lynn, her daughter has always demonstrated a great deal of creativity when it comes to designs. Lily has filled up notebooks with different ideas about various clothing designs. Lynn, who runs a home furnishings company, Rightside Design, marvels at her daughter's dedication and creativity at such a young age.
“I was an art major and I didn't get into sewing until I was much older. Lily's like an old soul,” her mother said proudly. “She's an extremely driven individual. She saw a St. Jude's commercial on TV and got very upset at seeing the children going through treatment and imagined herself being sick and her hair falling out from chemotherapy. We also have several family members who have had cancer.”
On Nov. 30, Lily delivered the 75 hats to an official with the Nemours A.I. Du Pont Hospital so that they could be distributed to the children before the weather turned really chilly.
Lily said that she hoped the hats would be useful to the children in the hospital, and that they would be encouraged to fight their illnesses. She added that making the hats for the youngsters was a good learning experience for her.
“I learned that you want to help other people,” Lily said. “It's not just about yourself. When you help others, you encourage them.”