HANSON — It was a hug in motion for a grieving family in the community on Sunday, July 31 as more than 200 area residents shrugged off oppressive humidity and rain to honor the memory of eighth-grader Samuel Andrews and aid the suicide prevention work of the Samaritans.
“My sister [Stacey] had an idea that we had to do something, and she suggested a walk,” said organizer Meredith Wigmore, a friend of the Andrews family. “She was the mastermind and I just got volunteers.”
That idea became the Do It For Sam 5K.
She said the fundraising goal was $5,000 and was certain it would be exceeded, thanks to the generous donation of gift baskets for raffles, which included a Wahlburger’s basket complete with a signed T-shirt, fitted hat and photo of Paul Wahlberg. One of Wahlburgers’ employees in promotions lives in Hanson and delivered the prize.
Wigmore said Monday that more than $9,000 was raised at the event.
“If we could help just one kid, one family, then we’ve done our job,” Wigmore said. “The town of Hanson has totally stepped up … I had people contacting me [asking], ‘What can I do?’”
One woman alone made up three of the raffle baskets. Hanson Police provided traffic control and the Fire Department had firefighter/EMTs driving the route on an ATV in case of a medical emergency.
Flowers for Sam
Walkers — and a few runners — stepped off a bit after the planned 9 a.m. start time, making their way from Botieri Field up Indian Head Street to School and Maquan streets, and back to Liberty Street, via Andrew Lane and Gorwin Drive, and then up High Street to Fern Hill Cemetery and back to Botieri Field. While at Fern Hill they were given water to beat the heat and humidity, and multi-colored carnations by Sam’s grandparents, Eugene and Phyllis Andrews, to place on his grave. The Abington Stop & Shop donated the flowers.
Members of the Andrews family expressed gratitude, when they could find the words, for their community’s support. Sam’s mother Melissa was unable to say much in the emotion of the day. His dad Phil was also deeply affected.
“It’s wonderful,” Gene said before choking up over the community’s support. “It’s unbelievable. From Day One, it’s just been … you realize we’re still a small town and a small community.”
“The turnout has just been phenomenal,” Phil said of the walk. “I can definitely feel Sam here with everyone and … I’m at a loss for words. I’m so glad we’re supporting a great organization like Samaritans.” He lauded the group’s work and said he hoped the fundraiser could help someone else in crisis.
Before the event started, DJ John Zucco introduced Abington Samaritans 40-year volunteer and board member Tom Burke to speak, followed by a prayer by the Rev. Michael Hobson of St. Joseph the Worker Church and a performance of the national anthem by Hanson resident Mary Drake.
Burke thanked organizers for the invitation and participants for the “wonderful tribute to Sam.”
Samaritans is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to reducing the incidence of suicide by befriending individuals in crisis and educating the public about effective prevention strategies. It also provides support for survivors of suicide attempts.
“The family reached out and got to know us and we got to know them,” Burke said after the walk. “They invited us to come down and we were happy to help.”
The Boston Samaritans chapter offers training workshops, grief support and reach to at-risk groups such as seniors. They also provide programs for schools. Burke said they handle as many as 125,000 calls and texts per year on the organization’s 24/7 phone befriending service: 1877-870-HOPE (4673) or text to Samaritans.
“It’s sad, but it’s needed,” Burke said. “We talk to about 12,000 people a year from schools … to explain the causes, the symptoms, how to cope, how to deal with it and who your resources are.”
All Samaritans services are offered at no cost.
“We also like to talk to police and first responders for two reasons,” he said. “First because they are involved and, second, because they are at risk.”
A great kid
Selectmen Chairman James McGahan, attending the walk, said it was a great example of a small town supporting one of its families at a time of pain.
“Sam was a great kid, I knew him and his dad when I first ran for office,” McGahan said. “They came down and met me down at Sandy’s coffee shop. He was a great boy and [his death] hit hard.”
He said his daughter was good friends with Sam.
“She misses him and couldn’t be here today, so she asked me to stop by,” McGahan said. “I think a lot of people are still kind of hurting from it, but this is a way for us to remember him.”
Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV volunteer Richard Green, who was among those attending the event who lost a loved one to suicide, too. He found the event brought back deep emotion and felt a connection to the Andrews family.
“We came to know him through what you people are doing,” he said of Sam. “It’s a very emotional day. … If you can help one person, that’s all you can do in this big world we live in.”