Volunteers provide outpouring for family of child killed at Pittsburgh Zoo
Wearing paper nametags shaped like the trucks Maddox Derkosh enjoyed so much, about 60 volunteers prepared spaghetti dinners for as many as 3,000 people Sunday to aid the family of the 2-year-old killed this month at the Pittsburgh Zoo.
The event at Brentwood Presbyterian Church benefited the Derkosh family and “Trucks for Maddox,” a drive to collect toys for a children's Christmas charity in memory of their son. Maddox died Nov. 4 when he fell into the African painted dogs exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and was mauled.
“I figured it was a great way for the community to help out. ... I'm just really excited and honored to help the family,” said Kristin Nock, 25, who orchestrated the event starting with the establishment of a “R.I.P. Maddox Derkosh” Facebook page. She said the page got 11,000 followers, and a PayPal account associated with the group brought in more than $16,000 in donations before Nock closed it down in favor of a Citizens Bank memorial account.
After reaching out to the Derkosh family — who are declining to comment on the incident — Nock got their blessing to organize the spaghetti dinner Sunday and a vigil in January. Through Facebook, she found dozens of other volunteers to help arrange the event.
“She's called probably every Wal-Mart and Target from here to Monroeville,” said Nock's fiance, Eric Mosesso, 22, of Carrick. “She'll say that she's going to bed, she'll lay down, and it's five minutes before she's up and on Facebook again, working on things until 2 a.m.”
Although police and zoo officials continue to investigate the incident, the emotional chord struck by the death of a child brought out many in the community who found themselves wondering what it would be like in the Derkosh family's place.
“We've been following the story from the very beginning,” said Tammy Fine, 36, of Lincoln, who brought her family to get dinner and enter a raffle for one of the many gift baskets that had been donated. “We found Kristin's page on Facebook, and we were excited to try and help, because we can't even imagine the pain (the family) is going through.”
Her husband, Dale Fine, 43, said they and their 5-year-old twins, Elizabeth and Thomas, have a family membership at the zoo and are frequent visitors. After hearing what happened to Maddox, it was all too easy to imagine one of their own wriggling away from them and getting hurt, he said.
Ted Rybka, 65, of West Mifflin, said that even though his son is grown, the incident made him think about how difficult it must be to lose a child so suddenly.
“With something like a long-term illness, you have time to deal with your emotions, but with an accident like that, it just happens so quickly,” Rybka said.
Gift baskets and bags donated for the raffle were arranged across the stage in the church basement. They were filled with goodies including lottery tickets, food, toys, cosmetics, gift cards and tickets. Toy trucks filled the back of a kid-sized wooden fire truck, complete with red flashing light, donated by Viking Woodworking of the South Side.
The church got involved, donating its basement and kitchen for the fundraiser, through the effort of Mary Ellen Shade of Finleyville, who rents the space to run a dance studio. Shade occasionally volunteers to give dance classes to students in Nock's Brentwood Preschool Activity Learning Shops program, and when she heard Nock was organizing a benefit she reached out to the church.
“It's amazing when you look at a community and how everyone pulls together in a tragedy, even when they don't know the people involved,” said Jessica Downey, 27, of Baldwin Township.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.