Mary Claire Friedl, 10, had a carefree spirit and a desire to explore the world.
She loved music — everything from rap to classical — and was known for riding her scooter down her family’s Franklin Park street while singing at the top of her lungs.
Her sudden death on Dec. 2 shook the North Allegheny School District community to its core.
For her girlfriends, mostly 9 and 10 years old, it was important to do something to honor Mary and keep her memory alive.
Mary loved unicorns and believed in everything magical.
So, when her best friend Olivia Klaich, 9, learned Mary was in the hospital, she bought a Beanie Boo unicorn and had her mother deliver it to her. Olivia was determined to get the stuffed toy to Mary right away so it would comfort her.
“She was just silly and happy and so much fun,” says Olivia, who is a fourth grader at Franklin Elementary. “I sometimes giggle just when I think of her.”
Mary had a high fever, suffered a seizure, and was rushed to the emergency room. She never woke up. The cause of her death is still being determined.
After Mary died, Olivia asked her mom, Susan: “What are we going to do now?”
In her honor, Olivia created The Mary Christmas Project to collect enough Beanie Boos to give one to every child at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. The project quickly went viral locally and internationally. Beanie Boo donations came from every state in the country. Donations have poured in from at least 16 countries around the globe, including Singapore, China, Brazil, and Malaysia.
At last count, Olivia collected more than 6,000 Beanie Boos. It took a large truck to carry all the boxes of Beanie Boos to Children’s Hospital. People in other cities were inspired to collect Beanie Boos and donate to their hometown children’s hospitals, too.
Mary’s mom, Jaime Friedl-Nehnevajsa appreciates the gesture.
“All of her girlfriends, they just don’t know what to do, so they’re doing these amazing things,” she says. “It’s just beautiful to watch — and heartbreaking.”
For Olivia, she just wants to make sure Mary – the first person she’d pick out of everyone to attend her birthday party – is remembered.
“She was a very important thing to me,” Olivia says. “She made her life big, even though it was small.”
Others joined in the movement. Skyler Baroni, 9, another fourth grader at Franklin Elementary, began collecting bears and balls in Mary’s honor to be donated to the Highmark Caring Place for kids receiving grief counseling.
Mary always gave Skyler little presents to brighten her day. So, when Mary died, Skyler told her mom Mary would want her to give gifts to other people.
Donations of more than 600 bears and balls came in over the last two weeks in Mary’s honor, says mom, Carrie Baroni. When Skyler talks about Mary, she says Mary is happy now, probably riding unicorns in heaven.
For Mary’s family, the outpouring of support from the community has been unbelievable.
“Mary would love this,” Jaime says. “She would be so proud.”