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When Hayley Orlinsky of Chicago learned on the news in March that doctors and nurses were running low on masks amid the frantic early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, she wanted to help.
“I ran up to my room and made a little friendship bracelet,” Hayley, 7, recalled on Tuesday. “And I told my mom that I wanted to sell these bracelets, and I wanted to make money for one of the hospitals.”
She began creating and selling colorful rubber bracelets to raise money for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, where she had been a patient in the neonatal intensive care unit.
After her mother, the children’s author Lori Orlinsky, posted a video on Facebook of her daughter talking about her bracelets, interest in the fund-raiser took off, Hayley said.
A project that began with a modest goal of raising $200 has now far surpassed Hayley’s expectations: As of Wednesday, she had sold about 9,000 bracelets and raised more than $22,000 for the hospital.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Hayley said. “It made me feel like I was doing something really important.”
Hayley’s mother said that her daughter had developed a strong, giving spirit because she was teased for being the shortest student in her class when she was younger.
“Because she was bullied, she is more empathetic to others who need help,” said Ms. Orlinsky, whose book “Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All)” was inspired by her daughter’s experience of being teased.
As word of her fund-raiser spread, support grew locally and beyond. Both sets of Hayley’s grandparents matched the first $1,500 she raised. She got a big boost from Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, who bought bracelets in the colors of the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Bears and the Chicago flag. Ms. Lightfoot also shared Hayley’s story on social media with the hashtag #ChicagoGoodWorks.
“The mayor really started kicking this into high gear,” Ms. Orlinsky said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois also bought three Chicago-themed bracelets, according to Ms. Orlinsky. The Chicago White Sox recognized Hayley by naming her as one of the team’s Heroes Beyond the Diamond. Orders have come in from as far as Hawaii and Italy.
Hayley, who is in second grade and enjoys dancing and acrobatics, makes the bulk of the bracelets herself, looping small, colorful rubber bands over her thumb and index finger repeatedly. She has had help from her family, including her younger sister, Ellie, who sorts the colors, and friends from her summer day camp who pitched in to help her meet her orders.
It takes Hayley about two minutes to make each bracelet, she said. She works on her bed while listening to Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson and asking Alexa to tell her knock-knock jokes.
She sells the bracelets for $3 apiece or $5 a pair and has come up with holiday-themed variations, including for Hanukkah and Christmas.
“She would constantly come up with opportunities to upsell people,” her mother said with a laugh.
The money from the bracelets has been donated to the hospital’s Covid-19 relief fund, which provides personal protective equipment like masks and goggles for staff members and patients’ families, according to Tracey McCusker, an associate director of community engagement at the hospital.
“Hayley has been such an inspiration to all of us at Lurie Children’s Hospital,” Ms. McCusker said on Wednesday. “She definitely has been a shining light through this pandemic, and we can’t thank her enough.”
How long will Hayley keep up her bracelet fund-raiser?
“I want to do it until Covid is over,” she said.