LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Black Friday, which is all about big-box store consumerism and cut-throat deal hunting, is regarded as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season in the U.S.
But in rural Frederick County, Md., a family who suffered immeasurable loss this year is asking people to start their shopping a week early, on Nov. 22, to benefit a memorial playground for their deceased daughters.
Numerous businesses in downtown Frederick and beyond have signed up to participate in “Pink Friday” in honor of Madigan and Sophie Lillard. The girls died in a blaze that consumed the family’s Myersville home in late January. They were 3 and 6, respectively.
Their parents, Chrissi and Jack Lillard, and siblings, Morgan and Sadie, survived. Morgan recently turned 9, and Sadie is 1-and-a-half.
After the tragedy, which ravaged the family and shook the surrounding community, it didn’t take long for the Lillards to hatch the idea for Sophie and Madigan’s Playground. The project recently earned an official nonprofit status.
“It’s a mixed bag for all of us,” Jack Lillard says. “We’re excited that we’re able to be moving forward and building something that is going to keep alive the memory of Sophie and Madigan while at the same time giving back to the community, but obviously the reason why we’re doing this is heart wrenching for us.”
The family sees Pink Friday, like the playground itself, as a way to remember the girls while simultaneously giving back to the community.
Independently-owned shops in Frederick make up the bulk of the brick-and-mortar participants, but some online retailers are also involved.
For every shopper who makes a purchase on Friday with a Sophie and Madigan coupon, a portion of the proceeds will go to the playground. Some businesses are donating as much as 30 or 40 percent, according to Lillard.
Serina Roy, owner of Dublin Roasters, says she was touched when she found out that the girls used to come into her shop for hot chocolate.
Not only is Roy participating in Pink Friday, but she is also creating a permanent menu item that will launch that day — Sophie and Madigan’s Hot Chocolate.
A tragedy like the one the Lillards went through “tugs at you,” Roy says.
“And you just don’t know what to do, how you can help.”
But she believes Pink Friday will help the community to connect with the family and feel like they are helping them in some small way.
“I am so, so proud of this town,” says Tom England, owner of Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts.
“Everyone heard the tragic story and people want to do whatever they can to help out. It’s a great testament to this community … we are so, so honored to be a part of it.”
Jack Lillard says the family was shocked by the outpouring of support from local businesses and, given the high participation level, hopes to make Pink Friday an annual event.
It will likely be a few more years before Sophie and Madigan’s park is completed, but the project has already reached several important milestones.
Frederick’s mayor and board of aldermen have approved the establishment of the park and the planning commission has conditionally approved the master site plan, which covers about 10 acres.
The family would like it to be a “destination playground, something beyond your standard playground,” Lillard says.
Most importantly, though, it will be a place “where families can make memories together.”