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Resourceful girl uses simple craft to raise $14,000 (and counting!) for COVID supplies

Hayley Orlinsky

Photo by Heidi Zeiger | Courtesy of Lori Orlinsky

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 06/19/20

When a 7-year-old from Chicago started making and selling bracelets and donating the proceeds, her project went viral beyond her wildest dreams!

If you’ve got a kid in elementary school, you’re probably familiar with the Rainbow Loom, a plastic tool kids can use to weave tiny bands into bracelets and other decorative items. (They’re wildly in demand: So many parents wear the colorful bracelets that they’ve been touted as a must-have accessory for “power suits in executive suites.”) During the pandemic, one little girl took her passion for making Rainbow Loom bracelets and turned it into a fundraiser for a local children’s hospital. She never imagined how popular her bracelets would be!

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Photo Courtesy of Lori Orlinsky

Hayley Orlinsky, 7, of Chicago, Illinois, wanted to find a way to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had heard that insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) is a major issue at many hospitals.

“My mom watches the news a lot, and I heard hospitals are running out of masks for the doctors and nurses,” she said in an interview with Aleteia. “I learned how to make bracelets with my friend, and I really wanted to help the doctors and nurses.”

She had the idea that she could sell her handmade bracelets and donate the proceeds to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the premier pediatric hospital in the area. Besides being a place dedicated to caring for children, the hospital has a special significance for Hayley: She was a patient there herself as a baby.

“I picked Lurie because I was born there and was in the NICU there,” she said.

When Hayley first began making bracelets, her fundraising goal was $200. Her mom, Lori Orlinsky, posted on Facebook to let friends and family know about Hayley’s project so they could buy bracelets: $3 each or 2 for $5. But to their surprise, Hayley’s simple project went beyond viral.

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Photo Courtesy of Lori Orlinsky

“It started when I posted a video and family and friends shared it,” Orlinsky said. The video was widely shared and the orders came pouring in. Her customers include Miguel Cervantes of Hamilton, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Ana Beleval (of WGN-TV) and Ryan Chiaverini (host of Windy City Live). At the time of her interview, Hayley had raised $14,065 for the hospital’s COVID fund. 

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wearing one of Hayley's bracelets.

“The most popular colors are the Chicago flag colors,” Hayley said, followed by colors of Chicago sports teams. But even though the project began in Chicago, it’s spread far beyond the city. She’s had customers as far away as Florida, New York, and New Orleans, and even mailed bracelets to Canada and Italy.

One unexpected but heartwarming part of the project has been the way that her local community has rallied around Hayley to support her. When the orders became more than she could handle, her friends from school and Girl Scouts reached out to help, so now she has a team of girls who help her make the bracelets. The family’s local alderman organized a surprise car parade for her, and the Rainbow Loom company donated supplies.

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Photos Courtesy of Lori Orlinsky

An especially meaningful act of support came from Hayley’s first-grade teacher. “At one point the orders got overwhelming,” Orlinsky said, “and Hayley’s teacher reached out and said that, if she needs to take a step back on schoolwork for a time, the bracelets are more important and that she’s learning more from this than from school right now.” Certainly the business management, service, and media skills Hayley is learning from this experience will last her a lifetime. Hayley did keep up with her schoolwork, Orlinsky said, but “that recognition by her community was so special for her.”

Lurie Hospital staff have been in close contact with Hayley to thank her for her generous service. “The bracelets are bringing joy to staff and patients as well,” Orlinsky said. “[Lurie staff] have been so great about acknowledging Hayley. They treat her like she’s part of their team.” When COVID restrictions lift, Hayley has a standing invitation to tour Lurie and celebrate her donation.

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Photo Courtesy of Lori Orlinsky

When asked how she feels about the project, Hayley said, “I feel amazing. I feel like I really made a big difference.”

While the enormous success of Hayley’s fundraiser came as a surprise, it makes all the sense in the world. In a country that feels ever more divided, “everybody can come together to support a little girl on a mission to help doctors and nurses,” Orlinsky said: “These bracelets are colorful, made by children, and going 100% to a good cause. They remind people that, even if you’re going through a dark time, hope is around us and brighter days are ahead.”

Bracelet orders can be placed and donations made through the Lurie Children’s Hospital site here.


Tony Hudgell

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