Gowns donated to first responders in memory of first child in Michigan to die of COVID-19
Detroit — Skylar Herbert's parents couldn't figure out why the 5-year-old's toys kept disappearing — until they discovered she was putting them aside for needy friends.
"She always wanted to help others," said Skylar's mother, LaVondria Herbert. "When we'd go to Target, she would ask if I could buy a toy because her friend didn't have one."
Skylar on April 19 became the first child in Michigan to die of COVID-19, although her spirit of giving was alive Tuesday during a ceremony outside Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, where a nonprofit donated 10,000 protective gowns in Skylar's name to the city's first responders.
Herbert, a longtime Detroit police officer, and her husband and Skylar's father, veteran Detroit firefighter Ebbie Herbert, attended the proceedings.
"My daughter was a bright star; she's shining down on us today. If she was here, she'd be asking 'how can I help?'" LaVondria Herbert said of her daughter, who had a rare form of meningitis and brain swelling before her death.
Local philanthropists also asked how they could help — specifically with addressing a shortage of protective gowns for Detroit's first responders to wear when coming in close contact with citizens who may have the virus.
After a few phone calls, a team of 300 volunteers was deployed, and the gowns were ready within 10 days, said Patti Kukula, director of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation.
"We've just been amazed and inspired by the outpouring of love we've seen," she said.
It's the latest donation of safety equipment to the city's first responders. Griffin Claw Brewing Co. in Birmingham and The Detroit City Distillery are among the companies that retooled their shops to make hand sanitizer, which they're distributing to police precincts and firehouses.
Donations of masks and other equipment have come from sources that include DTE Energy, United Parcel Service and former Detroit Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander.
Kukula said while donations of other personal protection equipment poured in, there was a dearth of gowns. So, she said she reached out to Cary Thompson, a Royal Oak firefighter who serves as a consultant to the foundation.
"Ten days later, (Thompson) calls and says, 'I have 10,000 gowns,'" Kukula said. "I couldn't believe it."
Thompson connected Kukula with Angels With Gowns, which had just gotten its 501(c)3 certification April 1. The nonprofit was founded by Robyn and Jeff Staebler of Gregory, near Chelsea.
Robyn Staebler said the couple used an old surgical gown her kids had worn on Halloween as a template. After reaching out to friends, churches and civic organizations, they rounded up more than 300 people who have since made 25,000 gowns, she said.
"This all started just 42 days ago," she said. "Because of our selfless volunteers, we've been able to provide gowns to front-line heroes across Michigan and the United States."
Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said Tuesday he appreciated the donation.
"Thank you for the donation of 10,000 gowns, but most of all, thank you for being in the spirit of giving the way Skylar was," Jones said.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he's overwhelmed by the support his department has received.
"I can't stress enough the love this city has shown," he said. "The countless hours put in by volunteers who saw a need and stepped up — that really is the Detroit spirit."