Parents turn grief into a mission to help others

BURBANK, Calif. — When Evelyn Swierczynski was just 15 years old, the unthinkable happened: She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and spent the next five months fighting for her life at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

The only thing that would help lift her spirits between infusions and check-ups was a visit by a volunteer with Literally Healing, a reading program that gifts families at CHLA more than 65,000 books every year. 

Evelyn, who often went by the nickname Evie, loved to read. Her favorite series was “Harry Potter,” but she loved to read anything that challenged her and excited her. Her mother, Meredith, says the biggest challenge for Evie when she started traditional schooling was trying to figure out how to fit her school books with all the other books she already had in her bag. Her younger brother, Parker, was the same way.

“We could be going to the grocery store, which was two minutes down the road, and they would walk out of the house with a stack full of books because they might have finished a book and they needed to have another book, just in case,” Meredith Swierczynski said.

In October of 2018, when Evie passed away, Meredith and her husband were still in a fog. They wanted to do something to honor Evie’s memory but were still too overcome by grief. It wasn’t until they walked into their neighborhood bookstore, Dark Delicacies, which their friends Del and Sue own, when they realized what their next steps would be.

Stacked in piles all across the floor of the store were dozens and dozens of books donated to them in Evie’s name. That’s when Meredith realized that they could take the books to CHLA, in partnership with the Literally Healing program, to help kids just like Evie. In that first year, they were able to donate 1,000 books. 

This year, Evie’s Holiday Book Drive is entering its fifth year and has a goal to collect and donate 3,000 books, which have to be new to avoid any chances of infecting recipients. 

But Meredith also has another goal for her Team Evie Foundation nonprofit. This year, they’re hosting a blood drive to help kids with leukemia. She says that when Evie was battling the cancer, she constantly needed blood, and her friends and family were always ready to donate. But she says that not every family is so lucky.

As a culminating event for the book drive, which runs from Oct. 24 to Dec. 5, the Team Evie Foundation will also host a blood drive on Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Brad Buckman Studio, located at 820 N Hollywood Way in Burbank, Calif.

Meredith says this fifth annual book drive has been hard because it marks five years without Evie. But seeing the impact that her daughter continues to have on others gives her the strength to do this year after year.