MAHOMET — After her friend and Mahomet-Seymour classmate Madeleine McNulty died suddenly earlier this year, Catherine Tandy began looking for a way to channel her grief into something positive.
"I was thinking, 'I just can't stay sad forever. I need something I can do to honor her,'" Tandy said.
Miss McNulty, 16, passed away in late February due to complications of epilepsy. A world traveler and avid dancer and gymnast, she was also active in Special Olympics.
"She was the happiest person I ever met," said Tandy, a sophomore. "She always had a smile on her face, and she wanted to be friends with everyone."
Madeleine was always the first to notice if someone had a new outfit or pair of shoes, Tandy added.
"She'd say, 'You look so beautiful today,' or 'I like that new shirt,'" she said.
It was that eye for fashion that inspired Tandy to launch a clothing drive in her friend's memory.
"My favorite thing about this idea was how it related to Madeleine as she loved fashion," said algebra teacher Rhonda Starkey, whose classroom was one of the drop-off points for donated clothing.
"As students looked through their clothing, they could think about what Madeleine would say about the color of the article of clothing or the material it was made with."
The beneficiary for the clothing drive was Three Spinners, an organization that works to support refugees making a new start in the Champaign-Urbana area. Three Spinners collects donations of clothing, school supplies and household items to help those families get established in the United States.
The organization was a natural choice, Tandy said, given the McNulty family's passion for international travel and Madeleine's own generosity.
"She was so giving to everyone," she said.
Organizers put up fliers around the school and spread the word on social media. Donations began at Mahomet-Seymour High School the week before spring break, and the following week boxes appeared at Mahomet IGA, Grace Church, Twist and Shout dance studio and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Champaign.
At first, Starkey wasn't sure whether the drive would be a success, given its timing. The week before spring break is a busy one at MSHS, not only because of the upcoming time off but also because of testing and parent-teacher conferences.
But the effort was an overwhelming hit, with students not only going through their closets for donations but also stepping up to help with the drive and spread the word.
The donation boxes at local churches also got a big response, garnering donations of clothing in a larger range of sizes.
"It was definitely a feel-good moment that made my heart smile," Starkey added.
Tandy ended up filling 73 garbage bags with the donated clothing, packing them into the backs of two SUVs to transport to Champaign. "We had a little trouble parking because we couldn't see out the back," she said.
The staff at Three Spinners "were blown away" to see the amount of clothing they brought, she said.
"I think donating clothes in her honor helped comfort students and also made them feel proud to help give back to others that are less fortunate," Starkey said.
The clothing drive wasn't the only effort organized by fellow students following their classmate's passing. Friends and family also sold bracelets in support of Mahomet's Special Olympics team.
Tandy said that the clothing drive helped give her an outlet for her grief. "It gave me an opportunity to open up and talk about it," she said.
Plus, she added, it helped her and her classmates remember their friend in a constructive way.
"I think after something tragic happens in a community, people sometimes only remember the bad that happened," she said. "I want to remember Madeleine as a person who was a light to everyone."
Amelia Benner is editor of the Mahomet Citizen, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit mcitizen.com.