Overwhelming support for boy’s headstone fundraiser

Blake McGinness, 9, shows off some of the toys he will be selling this coming Saturday at a yard...

Blake McGinness, 9, shows off some of the toys he will be selling this coming Saturday at a yard sale at his Kingston home. McGinness is trying to raise enough money to buy his father a headstone.

IAN ELLIOT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:38 PM ET

KINGSTON, Ont. - Blake McGinness' dad is getting a headstone and the family is thanking pretty much all of Canada for that.

After the nine-year-old boy's plan to sell his toys at a yard sale this weekend to buy a headstone for his father, Rick Lees, was reported by QMI Agency Monday, there was an outpouring of generosity — from both across Canada and overseas.

The story was featured on Toronto radio talk station CFRB Monday morning. A Toronto clothier, Tom Mihalic, owner of Tom's Place, heard the story and called in, offering to pay for the headstone, although he had never met the family.

Michael Levitt, president of Benjamin's Landmark Monuments in Toronto, heard that call while driving to work and immediately phoned the station, offering to build it.

By 11 a.m., he had talked to Mihalic, a friend of his, McGinness' mom, Linda, and the cemetery where Rick is buried to find out their technical requirements for a monument and said he was proud to be able to help.

"My own dad died when I was nine years old," he said.

"It touched a nerve and I am in a position to help. We will be creating a beautiful memorial for Richard with input from the family.

“I know they must be overwhelmed with the public response and it is great to see so many people stepping up to help a little boy in need."

Overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe the family's response to the story, which generated hundreds of e-mails from around the world and interview requests from across Canada as the story percolated through dozens of media outlets.

"I simply can't believe it," said Linda, a single mother who works at a downtown hair salon.

At least nine companies — including one in Texas — offered to supply headstones yesterday, free of charge.

McGinness said Levitt was the first to contact her and she was immensely grateful for his offer.

"I don't know if I can keep standing up today."

Although the cost of the monument is covered, she said her son will carry on with his planned sale Saturday and will give the money to charity.

Yesterday, she went to the Royal Bank and set up an education trust for the young boy for the donations people were offering from around the world.

The fund can't be touched until he goes to college.

The RBC trust fund is in the name of Blake McGinness and people can contribute at any RBC branch, transit number 02402, account number 5030473.

"I just can't get over this," Linda McGinness said.

"This really shows there is good in the world. I am so, so grateful that I don't have the words to express it."

It was reported Monday how Blake McGinness plans to hold a garage sale at his house at 675 Montreal St. this Saturday morning. He was going to use the money raised selling his toys and sports equipment to buy a headstone for his father, who is buried an unmarked grave in Wilmer Cemetery.

Rick Lees died suddenly in March 2009 of a stomach aneurysm and after the estate was settled, there was no money left for a grave marker. His son visits his dad's grave regularly, and always leaves toys and little mementoes at the plot.

Blake recently decided he wanted his dad to have a headstone and he would sell all his toys if that's what it would take.

The poignant story was picked up by Sun Media newspapers across Canada and ran in a free subway newspaper in Toronto read by tens of thousands of commuters.

Within minutes of the story appearing on websites just after midnight Monday, e-mails started coming in from people wanting to give money, toys and businesses offering tombstones to the Blake.

By the time the sun came up, that trickle had turned into a raging torrent. The story hit Twitter and Facebook and by midday the Kingston Whig-Standard, the Sun Media newspaper which broke the story, received more than 500 e-mails from people across North America and from Canadian soldiers as far away as Afghanistan, pledging support and wanting to know how they could help.

The story was grabbed by radio stations as far away as Vancouver and Yellowknife, and program directors were soon e-mailing the newspaper wanting contact information for the family, as so many listeners had called following the story wanting to know how they could help.

Many of those touched by the story had lost parents at a young age themselves; many had children around Blake's age and commended the boy for his effort.

An equal number, from Bay Street brokers to big-city police officers to hardened residents of New York City, just said they had tears running down their face as they read Blake's story and the short letter the young man published in The Whig on the anniversary of his father’s death, telling his dad how much he missed him and how he always says good-night to him before he goes to bed each evening and how he hopes his father can hear him.

"A young boy should not have to deal with adult issues. Where can I send a cheque?" asked one reader.

"I had tears in my eyes as I read this story and I want to know what I can do to help this amazing boy," said another.

"As the father of a nine-year-old boy, I can't imagine letting this boy sell his toys, no matter how noble the cause," said another. "My family doesn't live much better than paycheque to paycheque, but I am going to do whatever I can do to help."

Rocker Tom Cochrane's wife and manager got in touch with the newspaper wanting to FedEx memorabilia for Blake to put in the sale; so did sports stars who wanted to remain anonymous.

A number of people e-mailed from business and government addresses and said they were collecting money for Blake, his determination had touched them so much.

Collectors of stuffed animals across North America saw the picture of Blake holding up one of his plush toys from the movie Ice Age and said they were willing to pay far more than the memento was worth to help his cause.

At the family's neat Montreal St. house, with Blake's toys piled on the dining room table, both he and his mother were speechless Monday morning, and the offers of help had only just begun coming in, along with people who began knocking on the door before 9 a.m. to drop off donations.

"I just can't believe this is happening," said Linda.

When her husband died, she asked friends not to send flowers but to pledge money for a college fund for young Blake and she says any money that is not needed for the headstone will be used for that.

Her cellphone did not stop ringing and she struggled to find a work e-mail address that people could use to contact her.

"I don't have a computer at home," said the single mother.

"Buying food and clothes comes before a computer."

Blake, who had already done one phone interview with a radio station Monday morning, seemed a little stunned by the response himself, although the articulate young man politely said 'thank you' to one man who came to the door and put a bill in his hand while apologizing for not being in town this Saturday for the sale.

"It's pretty amazing," he marvelled.

ielliot@thewhig.com


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