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Community reaches out to North Apollo infant's grieving family

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, 10:57 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Volunteers sold memorial T-shirts and bracelets during a spaghetti dinner fundraiser on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, at the Oklahoma Borough fire hall for the family of Sophia Ludwiczak, the 2-month-old North Apollo girl who died from brain injuries police say she suffered after being shaken. Bill Shirley | For the Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Alyssa Tourney of Pittsburgh puts on a wristband memorializing Sophia Ludwiczak, the 2-month-old North Apollo girl who died from brain injuries police say she suffered after being shaken. Tourney and her family members attended a spaghetti dinner benefiting Sophia's family at the Oklahoma Borough fire hall on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Bill Shirley | For the Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Debbie Stankus of North Apollo participates in a Chinese auction at the Oklahoma Borough fire hall on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. The auction and a spaghetti dinner were arranged as fundraisers for the family of Sophia Ludwiczak, a 2-month-old North Apollo girl who died from brain injuries after police said she was violently shaken. Bill Shirley | For the Valley News Dispatch

Friends of Samantha Ludwiczak and her children were impressed with the outpouring of community support the family received on Sunday.

“The community really pulled through,” said Christine Stasenko of Washington Township as she observed the crowd at the Oklahoma Borough fire hall, where a spaghetti dinner raised money for the family coping with the death of 2-month-old Sophia Ludwiczak. The child died last week of brain injuries she suffered after police say she was shaken violently by Matthew Milisits, 30, of Vandergrift.

Milisits was charged with aggravated assault before the child died; authorities are investigating whether more serious charges are warranted. Milisits remains in the Westmoreland County jail awaiting a preliminary hearing tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11.

Stasenko, a childhood friend of Samantha Ludwiczak, organized the dinner to help defray medical and funeral expenses and to cover other needs of the child's mother and Sophia's surviving siblings, Abbigail and Jonathan.

About an hour into the dinner, Stasenko estimated 200 people had each donated $8 or more for spaghetti and fixings. More than 30 gift baskets were raffled off, and volunteers sold desserts, memorial T-shirts and commemorative bracelets.

Ludwiczak and her family members were present, but Stasenko said they didn't want to be interviewed.

“She's still going through a rough time,” Stasenko said. “She's trying her best.”

Stasenko said it was challenging to pull together a benefit dinner in such a short time, but businesses donated items and many people helped.

Alyssa Tourney, a relative of Stasenko, came from Pittsburgh with other family members to show their support. Tourney said her aunt and mother provided several gift baskets.

Cindy Dunmire said she and Heidi Walker, both of Apollo, pitched in to buy 200 rubber blue bracelets that read “Sophia's Entourage. Prevent Child Abuse.” They were being sold for $2 each.

“It's awesome so far,” Dunmire said of the community's response. “There's a lot of support for Samantha and her family.”

Stasenko said more T-shirts featuring Sophia's picture are being produced and will be sold to raise money for the family.

Stasenko said she wasn't sure how much money was raised Sunday, nor was she certain whether any other fundraisers would be arranged.

Earlier Sunday, Paul and Deborah Kaczor of Upper Burrell, Ludwiczak's uncle and aunt, collected toys and money for the Ludwiczak children at Hillcrest Shopping Center in Lower Burrell. A fund also has been set up through PNC Bank.

“We don't want people to forget,” Stasenko said. “This won't be the end.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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