The Wascavage family is once again collecting warm coats for those in need this winter; continuing what has become a four-year tradition in memory of their son and brother, Matthew.
Patti Wascavage’s son, Kevin originally started the coat drive as his Eagle Scout project in 2012 when he was inspired by the Crestwood Key Club efforts of a similar sort of which his older brother, Matthew was Chairman. Although both boys have since attained the rank of Eagle Scout, the family has decided to continue the tradition of collecting coats for those in need.
“Matthew helped him,” recalled Patti. “We embraced the project as a family.”
Patti and her husband, George, adopted their two sons from Russia; Matthew at 14 months in 1996 and Kevin at 11 months three years later. It wasn’t long afterward that Matthew was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy at the age of three; a rare genetic disease that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, and eventual heart and respiratory failure. Matthew, who loved playing both basketball and baseball, had to adjust to the use of a wheelchair by age 11. Despite an average lifespan of late teens to early twenties, the family never gave up hope that there would eventually be a cure. Neither did Matthew.
“We knew he had a poor prognosis,” said Patti. “We were always looking for different trials and we were optimistic and find a treatment. When he first stopped walking it was very hard on us but Matthew was always optimistic.”
Patti says that Matthew and Kevin were shocked at the amount of coats they were able to collect the first year. Having remained active in the Boy Scouts Organization even after her boys became Eagle Scouts, Patti has been able to expand the drive now to include the 11 school district region she oversees as Chairman. She is the main volunteer for the project that runs from October through December.
“Our entire garage was filled with bags of coats,” recalled Patti of that first year. “It was phenomenal and overwhelming to all of us because we didn’t know what we would get.”
Matthew was very active at Crestwood, serving in the Key Club and as the statistician for the Crestwood and St. Jude boys basketball teams. Patti relates he loved Legos and all sports, including The NY Yankees and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was even able to meet his hero, Derek Jeter, through the Make A Wish Foundation.
Midway through his senior year, Matthew began having respiratory issues. The summer after graduation, he began experiencing problems with his heart. He continued to give back by donating some of his graduation money toward the construction of the Buerger Center at CHOP, where he had spend so much time growing up.
“He wanted to give back to make sure others got the kind of care he did.” recalled Patti, who said that Matthews doctors, Peter Bingham and Richard Finkel were “fantastic”
Matthew Wascavage had just started his freshman year at King’s college on a scholarship to major in History and Political Science when he passed away October 29, 2013 at the age of 19. At his request, donations were made to the Buerger Center in his memory.
Now the Wascavages continue the tradition Matthew helped start with his brother five years ago; collecting, on average, about 1200 coats every fall that they then distribute to churches, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Patti says they will distribute coats to wherever there is a need, whether in Wilkes-Barre, Shenandoah or Crestwood High School. All coat donations are completely anonymous. Kevin, now 19 and a student at LCCC, shuttles the coats from their collection locations and then helps distribute them with his dad.
“We go through every item to make sure it is clean and in good condition. “ explained Patti
This time of year is difficult for the Wascavage family. December 1 would have been Matthew’s 23rd birthday, and Patti says his family misses him “every second of every day”. The family remembers him by doing what Matthew would be doing if he was here –helping others. “I just hope that people will
understand that it is important to give back’, said Patti “One of the things Matthew thought was important was helping those who need help. He taught us that. Even when he was going through the worst he never complained -he was always smiling.”
Anyone who is interested in donating or helping with the drive can contact Patti Wascavage at 570 –474-2279.