GREENSBURG, Pa. - Six-year-old Emily Milliron Ruggieri is selling Girl Scout cookies like many other girls her age do. But, Emily has a special purpose in mind – she’s hoping her customers will donate the cookies to UPMC Children’s Hospital.
Emily told Channel 11 News the reasoning behind her mission is in memory of her late father, Ethan Milliron, who was treated at Children’s for Osteosarcoma when he was a child.
“I love my daddy, and I want to make him happy. And I want to make sick kids happy,” Emily said.
Emily and her mother, Suzanne Milliron Ruggieri, said they’ve already received over 1,500 boxes as donations, and they’re not done yet.
"We are currently standing at 1,906 boxes donated from all 50 states and eight different countries," Ruggieri said.
Along with her parents, Emily will hand-deliver the crates of cookies to be placed as a surprise treat in kitchens stationed at each in-patient unit of Children's Hospital.
Emily's birth father, Ethan Milliron, had battled cancer in his teens, but he came out of remission just two weeks before marrying Suzanne in 2006. Although the aggressive cancer had spread to “almost every organ,” the young couple married, honeymooned in the Virgin Islands, and welcomed Emily, their “surprising miracle” daughter, Suzanne Ruggieri said.
Milliron died in 2009 at 24.
Carol May, manager of the hospital's supportive care program, cared for Milliron and calls the family's fundraiser “amazing.”
“(The pantries are) not stocked with good treats like Girl Scout cookies. It will be a nice surprise,” May said. “It's hard to be here in the hospital, and it's an expensive place to be, so that's a great treat for them.”
Some cookies will be shared during relaxation programs for families at the hospital.
Although he was an adult, Milliron was treated at Children's Hospital because of his history there. The hospital pantries stock just the basics -- crackers, cereal, coffee -- so the couple used to bring Girl Scout cookies for hospital stays.
“If these cookies make one kid smile and get excited after not feeling well, that makes a big difference,” Suzanne Ruggieri said.
The treats also might help patients' caregivers, John Ruggieri said.
“It might be a stress reliever to bite into a Samoa,” he said.
The family had been looking for a way to honor Ethan's memory, John Ruggieri said. When they learned about the Girl Scouts' “Gift of Caring” program, which allows troops to donate cookies to an organization of their choice, Suzanne Ruggieri said she “immediately knew” she wanted to donate to Children's Hospital.
Emily's eyes, silly humor and facial expressions remind Suzanne Ruggieri of Milliron. The two even share the same favorite Girl Scout cookie flavors: Trefoils and Thin Mints.
“She's him,” she said.
Emily is a second-year Girl Scout and a first-grader at Greensburg Salem's Hutchinson Elementary, where she participates in a Christian-based after-school program called “Good News Club.” She likes writing, computer class and art.
“She's just a very, very good-hearted kid who wants to do good,” her mother said. “It's kids helping kids.”
Girl Scouts can choose to donate cookies to charities of their choice, such as food pantries, the military and Meals on Wheels, said Nancy Irwin, director of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania.
“Girl Scouting is a girl-led program. Girls have the opportunity to make the changes that they want to in the world,” Irwin said. “This is the perfect example of a girl doing something through Girl Scouting that means something to her and makes a difference.”
The Girl Scout cookie drive continues through February. To help Emily reach her goals of delivering cookies and smiles to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.