Girl's Friendship Bracelets Raise More Than $23,000 for Children's Hospital Where She Was Once Treated
"She has been an inspiration and a bright light," a rep at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago says of Hayley Orlinsky's efforts
A little girl in Chicago is doing her part to assist in the fight against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — one bracelet at a time.
When Hayley Orlinsky was young, she was a patient in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, the New York Times reported.
Seven years later, Hayley is giving back to that very hospital by making rubber friendship bracelets and selling them to people around the world in order to raise money for PPE to give to frontline workers and patients' families.
To date, Hayley has made and sold close to 9,000 colorful bracelets, according to the NYT. Her sales have helped raise more than $23,000 for the hospital's COVID-19 relief fund, her fundraising page states.
"I couldn’t believe it," Hayley told the NYT. "It made me feel like I was doing something really important."
In a statement to PEOPLE, Tracey McCusker, the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Lurie Children's, says: "Hayley has raised critical funds for Lurie Children's to help us respond to the rapidly changing needs of the COVID-19 pandemic."
"She has been an inspiration and a bright light for our staff, patient families and community," McCusker adds. "We are so grateful for all of her hard work and support!"
Hayley first came up with the idea to make bracelets at the beginning of the pandemic when frontline workers were facing a major shortage in PPE, the NYT reported.
"I ran up to my room and made a little friendship bracelet," the second-grader recalled to the outlet. "And I told my mom that I wanted to sell these bracelets, and I wanted to make money for one of the hospitals."
For Hayley's mom, author Lori Orlinsky, the idea to give back didn't come as a surprise, especially knowing how much her daughter liked to help others.
Her mom told the NYT that Hayley's altruistic side became rather present after she was teased in school for being the shortest student in her class. (That experience later inspired Lori to write a children's book called Being Small (Isn't So Bad After All), according to the outlet.)
"Because she was bullied, she is more empathetic to others who need help," Lori explained to the NYT.
With the help of her mom, Hayley set up a fundraiser online and set an initial goal of $200, according to her fundraising page. She decided to sell each rubber bracelet for $3, as well as offer a deal of two for $5.
The second-grader also said customers could ask for a limited edition cat charm from The Alycat Series or bracelets for an additional $5, but doctors or nurses could get theirs for free.
After her mom posted a video about her efforts on Facebook, Hayley's fundraiser boomed as thousands of dollars in donations poured in from family, friends and people in Chicago, as well as strangers from around the world, according to the NYT.
Hayley's grandparents were among those who donated, with both sets offering to match the first $1,500 she raised, her fundraising page states.
Later on, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also got in on the fun, buying bracelets from the second-grader in the colors of the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Bears and the Chicago flag, the NYT reported.
"The mayor really started kicking this into high gear," Lori told the outlet, adding that Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois also bought three Chicago-themed bracelets.
On average, it takes Hayley about two minutes to make each bracelet, but because of the high-demand, she had to enlist the help of her younger sister, Ellie, and her friends, according to the NYT.
Hayley also had to put an end to custom color orders, with her fundraising page stating that her team will make "beautiful surprise bracelets for everyone since it [is] quicker."
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With the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in the United States — as of Thursday, there have been more than 17 million cases and at least 307,642 deaths attributed to coronavirus, according to the New York Times — Hayley said she intends on making bracelets until the pandemic is officially in the past.
"I want to do it until COVID is over," she told the NYT.
Those interested in learning more about how to buy one of Hayley's bracelets or help with her efforts can so do here.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.