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Penelope’s Odyssey holds pumpkin patch for sick kids

Felix Ruderman, 1, of Sea Cliff, searches for

Felix Ruderman, 1, of Sea Cliff, searches for a pumpkin at Clark Botanic Garden in Roslyn Heights during an event in which his family, who formed a nonprofit called Penelope's Odyssey named after their daughter's journey battling leukemia, offered 100 pumpkins and the opportunity to paint them to families with sick children. (Oct. 13, 2012) Credit: Brittany Wait

Lori Schneider smiled, watching her 5-year-old daughter Penelope circle a pumpkin patch at Clark Botanic Garden in Roslyn Heights looking for the perfect one to paint.

“We are doing a pumpkin patch for children and their families that are impacted with a childhood illness like cancer, “ said Schneider, 35, of Sea Cliff.

In September 2010, Penelope was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3. After she received a bone marrow transplant in January 2011, her family formed a nonprofit called Penelope's Odyssey, named after their daughter’s journey battling leukemia.

On Saturday, the nonprofit held an event to offer local families with sick children a chance to pick their own pumpkin, courtesy of Hicks Nursery in Westbury, and paint them.

“Because of their immune systems being compromised, they often can’t go to pumpkin patches and can’t always be around overly crowded places,” said Schneider, co-founder of the nonprofit. “It was something that when Penelope was going through treatment [she] really missed.”

Friend of the family, Michelle Wettstein, 35, of South Hempstead, painted the children's faces and Hicks Nursery also sent Otto the Ghost to pose for pictures with the children.

Teresa Chiu brought her 3-year-old twins Zachary and Zoey to give them, especially her son who was diagnosed with leukemia in April, a chance to paint pumpkins to get into the Halloween spirit.

“It’s nice that they have something like this,” said Chiu, 38, of Fresh Meadows, Queens. “It’s hard to find places to take them that aren’t crowded and leave him open to catching germs.”

Like many of the 20 children and their families, Chiu’s son attended Sunrise Day Camp in Wheatley Heights, which offers recreational activities in the summer to children with cancer.

Alexandra McGeachy watched as her daughter Kamirah, 9, who was diagnosed in 2007 with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer found in bone or soft tissue, got her face painted to look like a butterfly’s wings were spread out across her face.

“It’s beautiful, especially for the kids who are in treatment,” said McGeachy, 25, of Brooklyn. “There’s not a lot they can do outside of the house or hospital. This is great.”

Schneider said that many people aren’t aware of how many children face cancer and miss out on their childhoods, so the nonprofit strives to provide safe environments, offering those children the chance to be able to play and be a kid again.

“There are years that have been taken away from Penelope, and now that she’s a survivor it’s really important as her parents that we’re screaming to the community,” she said. “We need to put more funding towards pediatric cancer and provide safe environments for kids who are going through this, so they don’t have to miss running around and just being kids in a pumpkin patch.”

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