Cooking up support for families facing pediatric cancer

A hot internet trend in recent years is “paying it forward,” during which a person pays for the coffee or food order for the person next in line, creating a chain reaction of kindness. And while this has been a viral trend on social media, the Koerner family of Washington Township has been paying it forward before it was in vogue.

When Ellie Koerner was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in late 2007 at the age of 4, the Koerner family spent a month straight at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, including overnight on Christmas Eve. Ellie’s father, Dave, recounted the day, distinctly remembering a family who donated a meal to the entire oncology floor. Once Ellie was discharged, the Koerner family started the Ellie Koerner Leukemia Foundation, and they made their first donation a short seven months later on July 4, 2008.

The foundation has showed no signs of slowing down in its 11th year of operation. In fact, Ellie, along with some family and friends, cooked breakfast for approximately 75 people at the Ronald McDonald House on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia on Oct. 20.

The group arrived at 6:30 a.m. in matching T-shirts and took over the industrial-sized kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House, ready to whip up homemade French toast, eggs, bacon and hash browns for the families in residence. Once they finished, they washed the dishes and returned the kitchen to the way they found it.

“It never gets easier to see the sick kids and their parents, but it feels good to help them. They’re always appreciative of us,” Ellie said.

The group also held a Halloween costume drive where it collected approximately 50 costumes to disperse to less fortunate families – another way the Koerner family pays it forward for families in need.

The Ellie Koerner Leukemia Foundation grew from humble beginnings – providing meals for families on CHOP’s oncology floor – but as the charity grew, it was able to do more, including buying Christmas presents for families on the oncology floor, according to Dave.

Though Ellie is getting older and could possibly be heading off to college in the coming years, she shows no signs of stopping her charitable work.

“This is really important to me. I plan to keep doing it,” she said. “There’s always going to be new families, unfortunately.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Ellie, now a junior at Washington Township High School, has been in remission for eight years and is now considered cured from leukemia. She is a two-sport athlete in tennis and lacrosse and maintains high grades in honors classes. While her junior year just started, she is on a pre-med track and is aspiring to become a doctor or possibly an oncologist.

With nothing but possibilities in the future, Ellie and Dave look forward to raising awareness of childhood cancer, the CHOP oncology floor and the Ronald McDonald House.

Donations can be made to the Ellie Koerner Leukemia Foundation by mail to 4 Saint Paul Court in Sewell.