Maddox Derkosh, the 2-year-old who died at the Pittsburgh zoo Sunday, loved playing with toy construction trucks, and he was good at sharing them.
So when his family met with staff at William Slater II Funeral Service in Scott earlier this week, they decided to do something to honor that memory of Maddox, said office manager Betty Borzilleri.
Instead of requesting flowers or donations, they suggested people who wanted to send something to send toy trucks, which they will donate to a children's Christmas charity.
The request went out Monday and then the trucks began to arrive. By the dozens.
There was a dump truck by Matchbox. A fire truck by Tonka. A mini-mover by CAT.
Little trucks -- in yellow and red and blue and green -- were left in the funeral home's driveway overnight or carried into the building and placed gently on a table in the foyer, then moved by the staff into a room where a visitation was held for Maddox Thursday afternoon.
"We will never forget this as long as we live," said Bill Slater, owner of the funeral home, as he stood surrounded by about 100 toy trucks on Thursday morning. The little trucks were displayed on tables and pedestals that usually hold flowers, transforming the large room into a tragic variation of a little boy's best Christmas morning.
People often send flowers to funerals and funeral homes because of that old saying, that "beauty softens sorrow," Mr. Slater said. Yet flowers are not the only way to offer comfort.
"These trucks -- for this family -- it's going to be similar to the flowers, but even more in this case, because it means something for them," he said.
The trucks -- by Thursday afternoon, Ms. Borzilleri said 1,000 trucks had been donated -- likely will keep arriving. Mr. Slater's funeral home has fielded calls from as far away as Cleveland, Arizona, California and Canada from people wanting to know if they, too, can send a truck for Maddox.
They come, for the most part, from people who did not know Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh of Whitehall, who lost Maddox, their only child, when he was mauled to death at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
The little boy was visiting the zoo with his mother when police said he fell 14 feet into the African painted dog enclosure after his mother lifted him into a standing position on the exhibit's railing to get a better view.
"It's a tragedy, and people come together in tragedy," Mr. Slater said.
That's why Shelley Bishop, a secretary at Slater's Mount Washington location, posted the Derkosh family's request for toy trucks on her Facebook page. In two days, Ms. Bishop and her family and friends collected about 15 trucks.
"I just think it was a terrible, terrible accident, and there's not a person that I've talked to that doesn't have a tear in their eye whenever they talk about it," she said by phone. "It's just so, so sad."
That communal sense of sorrow is also why Andrea Richardson of Crafton, carrying her 2-year-old daughter Norah, drove to the funeral home Thursday morning. She left her donations -- a cement mixer and a dump truck from her family and from a friend -- inside the funeral home.
"I hope that they know the whole community is mourning with them," said Ms. Richardson, who also has a 5-year-old son. "It's just such a tragedy and we're so, so sorry for them."
The request for toy truck donations serves a three-fold purpose, Mr. Slater said. It brings comfort to the family, who he said are "extremely distraught." It makes people, even strangers, feel they are doing something to help the family. And the toys, once they are donated, will help many other children.
"Think of how many smiles Maddox will put on different children's faces," he said.
Toy truck donations can be sent to the William Slater II Funeral Home at 1650 Greentree Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15220. There is no deadline for sending trucks.
A Mass for Maddox Derkosh will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. Bernard Catholic Church in Mt. Lebanon. The family has asked that trucks not be brought to the funeral.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707. First Published November 9, 2012 2:00 PM