As the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold in Rhode Island, Cranston Police Detective Eric Leclerc brought home a mask and hand sanitizer for his daughter, 17-year-old Sofia Illiano.
Sofia, who is one of 4,400 athletes of Special Olympics Rhode Island, asked her dad if he had any for her Special Olympics friends.
“It was at that time an idea came to light,” said Leclerc, who is the co-chairman of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics RI.
Leclerc reached out to other committee members and asked if they would be willing to help Sofia in obtaining and distributing personal protective equipment, or PPE, to Special Olympics athletes and group homes across the state who were the most in need.
The committee members – including representatives of various police and fire departments, as well as correctional officers and members of the state attorney general’s office – jumped at the chance.
The idea of providing a “Coronavirus Essentials Bag” to those in need was now in full swing.
“Together with the help and donations from the Cranston Police Department, Cranston-based businesses Technic Inc. and Sunshine Auto and Detailing, as well as Warwick-based Cardi’s Furniture, Wakefield-based Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Company, as well as financial donations from committee members and S.O.F.I.A. (Supporting Others For Inclusion and Acceptance), Sofia was able to obtain face masks, hand sanitizer, soap, tissues, rubber gloves, water bottles, sunglasses, coloring books, water bottles and T-shirts, all placed in a draw-string backpack to make each ‘Coronavirus Essentials Bag,’” Leclerc said.
Each bag also contains important information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including guidelines on proper hand washing and other steps stop the spread of the disease.
At first, the goal was to make 50 bags. Those bags were quickly passed out and the demand grew.
“As the number of requests increased, the committee and Sofia adjusted some of the non-safety items in the bags so we were able to make more,” Leclerc said.
Another 146 bags were made and handed out, but then the masks ran out.
Leclerc said that since there were 70 more bottles of hand sanitizer left, Sofia wanted to hand those out.
“Sofia reached out on social media and asked her friends for help for 70 more masks,” Leclerc said. Also participating in the project were 14-year-old Rachel Gederman from Park View Middle School and 14-year-old Jake Ranone from Western Hills Middle School.
Within hours, Sofia had more than 150 masks donated from her friends. Those masks will now be given to various group homes in need.
A total of 266 bags were given out all across Rhode Island.
“Together we are changing the world one smile and socially distanced hug at a time,” Sofia said. “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for supporting my friends and I in the Special Olympics.” 1
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Special Olympian Sofia Illiano, 17, the daughter of Cranston Police Detective Eric Leclerc, has made a big difference in the lives of other Special Olympians. This year’s Special Olympics has been canceled. (Submitted photo)