Rachel Price doesn't have a lot of experience with the grieving process.
But the third-grader at Old State Elementary School was forced to learn a valuable lesson about how to deal with the loss of a loved one when her friend and classmate, Alexandra Gray, died suddenly on Sept. 11.
"I was very upset when my mom told me," the 8-year-old said. "But I found out doing nice things that help you remember the person can help to get your mind off of how sad you are."
That's what Rachel set out to do last month, when she began using a loom her mother bought her as a "cheer-up" gift to make rubber band bracelets that she began selling out of her family's garage.
"My mom told me Alexandra's obituary had asked for donations to be sent to St. Jude Children's Hospital, so I decided to sell the bracelets as a way to raise money," Rachel said. "I sold a bunch right away, so then I decided to see how much I could raise. At first, my goal was $200. Then it was $400. Then it was $600."
After selling her $1 and $2 bracelets during school lunches, Rachel – with a little help from friends and family – managed to raise $1,053 that she'll now donate to the Tennessee hospital in Alexandra's honor.
"I just can't believe how successful she's been," said Rachel's mother, Barbara. "We had to put a limit on her because we were spending almost every evening making these bracelets. But every time we had a few hundred made up, she's go to school and get even more orders."
In addition to a few hundred classmates, Rachel's customers also included Appoquinimink School District Superintendent Matt Burrows and Old State Co-Principal Don Davis.
"Alexandra's death was a shock for a lot of the kids, especially Rachel," Davis said, while showing off his green-and-silver bracelet. "Our students do fundraisers during the school lunches each month, but for Rachel to do this in Alexandra's honor just shows what kind of person this third-grader is at heart."
Rachel first met Alexandra, a student with learning disabilities, while the two girls were in first grade.
Special education teacher Karen Stugard said the two bonded quickly, especially after Rachel became Alexandra's mentor and Special Olympics buddy.
"Rachel would always seek her out on the playground, sit with her at lunch and help her in science and social studies," Stugard said. "After Alexandra's passing, she told me she was concerned about how the paraprofessionals and other adults were going to be upset. She's just a very compassionate young lady."
Perhaps no one has been more moved by Rachel's act of kindness than Alexandra's mother, Denise Gray Gormley, who said she has yet to receive a definitive answer about what caused her daughter's death.
Page 2 of 2 - "That not knowing has been very difficult," Gormley said. "But as hard as it has been, it really warms my heart to know Rachel wanted to do something special in Alexandra's memory. They were buddies and Alexandra felt Rachel really understood her, which was so important to her. What she's done just makes me feel so proud as a parent."
Rachel said she's also proud of what she's been able to accomplish. But she says she's still has one more goal she'd like to achieve in Alexandra's honor.
"I want to be a special education teacher so I can help other kids like her," she said. "She was really sweet and friendly. Her favorite color was purple and she always wore pigtails. I just miss her."
Rachel is no longer selling bracelets, but anyone who wishes to honor Alexandra's memory can make a check donation to the Alexandra Gray Fund at the school, which raises money for special needs classroom supplies. For more information about making a donation, contact Old State co-principal Rene Nolan at (302) 378-6720.