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Posted: March 2014
If it looks like a duck…it must be the Labor Day Rubber Duck Race at the Wayside Inn’s Grist Mill. This annual event, which raises funds for the Child Life Program at the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center (CMC), marked its 10th anniversary in 2013—a decade of support that grew out of one family’s gratitude for the care their child received.
At age three, Maddy Richardson was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent lifesaving treatment at the CMC. Today, she is a college junior studying forensic science at the Eberly College of Science at Penn State. Her parents, Scott and Terry, and grandmother Peggy channeled their gratitude into a spirited event that has captured the hearts of an entire community.
Owners of Bullfinchs Restaurant in Sudbury, Mass., the Richardson family each year offers 3,000 rubber ducks for “adoption” to customers and the community for $5 each. People also can buy a “six-quack” for $25 and a flock of 13 ducks for $50.
At noon on race day, the ducks are dropped into the stream at the Grist Mill and the ducks’ owners cheer on their adoptees as they “race” toward the finish line. Owners of the top three finishers win prizes, and the remaining proceeds go to the Child Life Program.
This past Labor Day was a perfect day for ducks, dawning with rain and a mass of puddles, but not so much for fans. Scott and Peggy Richardson actually considered canceling the race and drawing the winners from a bin of tickets. But they decided to go ahead despite the weather and, as noontime approached, families with umbrellas started to arrive. By the start of the race, nearly 500 stalwart supporters had braved the bad weather to cheer on their ducks, making it yet another successful event.
“We’ve had wonderful support from our extended family at Bullfinchs,” said Scott Richardson. “It makes us feel very happy and proud.”
The Child Life Program has used the funds raised to purchase a variety of items, including individual televisions for patient rooms and Chemo Ducks to help kids with cancer understand what’s happening to them in a child-friendly and comforting way. These plush, bright yellow ducks are dressed in hospital pajamas and a bandanna, and feature catheters and an arm immobilizer.
“So much good has come out of those difficult times when Maddy was sick,” Richardson said. “The folks at the Child Life Program and the things they did for us really made a difference. When it came to a fundraising event to give back, they were the first ones we thought of.”
Story published in the Spring 2014 edition of the Your UMass medicine newsletter (pdf).
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