Nothing brings a community together like a little sun.
Following her leukemia diagnosis five years ago, Bay Ridge rallied behind Sally Kabel, the six-year-old girl known to many as “Sweet Sally Sunshine.”
Sally survived leukemia but the harsh treatments needed to beat the disease took a toll on her young body. She died on Wednesday, Sept. 19.
Sally, who turned six on Sept. 11, was admitted earlier in the week to the intensive care unit at NYU Langone with a severe sepsis infection, according to her father, who candidly shared his family’s anguish on social media.
At one point, she went into septic shock and suffered kidney and lung failure, her father revealed.
“We will share more info on how we plan to let her ‘village’ celebrate her life at a later date,” her father wrote. “For now we ask everyone to pray for our family, and would appreciate it if everyone could wear yellow or gold this Friday in honor of our Sweet Sally Sunshine.”
And that they did — in droves.
In a matter of hours, yellow and gold began appearing all over the neighborhood — storefronts, homes, schools, lampposts and trees were suddenly adorned with ribbons, wreaths and messages.
Cloudy skies were brightened by the sea of ribbons — nearly all of them homemade, some even out of construction paper — along the neighborhood’s Third and Fifth Avenue strips Friday morning.
On Sally’s block, a brand new pre-school celebrated its grand opening that a.m. surrounded by everything from gold balloons and ribbons to the very ribbon officials were there to cut. The day before, some friends and neighbors adorned the rest of the block with gold ribbon.
According to one resident, once she joined others in putting up bows, she “just couldn’t stop.”
“I’m just so heartbroken for them,” she told this paper. “I think we all feel heartbroken for them and we all want to do something and don’t know what to do.”
Going gold, the neighbor said, is something everyone can do.
“I know it’s nothing but I just want them to know how much this community loves them and how much of an impact their beautiful little hero had on all of us,” she said, stressing that it has been a group effort, Ridge-wide.
“This isn’t just me,” she said. “It’s so many people. It’s an awesome group effort and it’s such an amazing thing to see this community come together. It makes me proud and happy to be a part of this community.”
Less than a mile away at a bookstore, a memorial mural by a local artist greeted passers by, the shop’s owner a good friend of the Kabels.
“When I heard Sally had passed I reached out and offered to paint a mural at the shop to hopefully show the community we care and make folks feel a little better that we are a neighborhood that cares for each other,” the artist said. “The store’s owner came up with the idea of balloons, sunshine and sunflowers to keep it happy for such a sweet girl.”
A few blocks away, a pharmacy honored Sally with a massive balloon display, which — alongside a bike shop next door — centered its decorations around a giant gold “6” in celebration of Sally’s recent birthday.
The area memorials run the gamut, from decked out window displays to hand-painted rocks and even designated pit-stops for neighbors to pick up ribbons and pins. Schools across the district also sported gold for Sally and countless kids and adults wore yellow and gold.
At St. Patrick’s Catholic Academy, students and teachers participated in a gold and yellow dress-down day, proceeds from its Fall Festival later that evening going directly to the Kabel family. The parish secretary and event organizer, asked that the community keep the Kabel family — including Sally’s two older brothers — in their prayers. “May she rest in peace,” she said.
“Just over five years ago our community gathered around Sally and her family to help them in any way that we could. In some ways we became a community because of Sally. She changed us, as individuals and as a neighborhood,” one resident said. “She inspired us to be better people. As you see all the yellow shirts and gold ribbons that sprung up all over the neighborhood immediately, you can see that Sally brought us all together again.”
Sally was diagnosed with leukemia at just 10 months old. Despite it all, family and friends agreed that it was rare to see the young girl without a smile on her face.
The Kabels often took to social media, where supporters from near and far followed Sally’s progress over the past five years. Locally, grassroots groups like Bay Ridge Cares held fundraisers to help pay for Sally’s medical treatments.
The Kabels always paid it forward, though, turning their attention towards other families facing similar struggles.
The couple brought Sally every year to Times Square for the “Go Gold” campaign, a one-night event in which the electronic signs in the Crossroads of the World would be lit in gold in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Times Square will go gold this year on Sept. 27, though, it seems, Bay Ridge has already given the Big Apple a run for its money.
“We all hope that the Kabels feel how much they are loved and know that Sally will always be remembered,” said a resident, noting also that Friday’s Google Doodle — a heartwarming tribute to “everyone’s favorite neighbor” Mr. Rogers — was perhaps a sign from Sally herself. “She is in all of us because they shared her with us.”
“We can’t tell you how much this support means to us right now,” the Kabel family wrote on Facebook of the efforts, adding that, of all the signs that stood out to them, the sunflowers perhaps meant the most. “We’d never really identified Sally with them, but they too were everywhere. In storefronts, on ribbons, in artwork. We even saw naturally growing ones that we’ve never noticed before.
“We’ve heard from other parents who’ve lost their cubs that they often receive a sign from their child that they’re [okay,]” the family went on. “We strongly believe that Sally was communicating to us through the hundreds of sunflowers we saw both in person and online today.”
Additional reporting contributed by Paula Katinas