Ronnie Polaneczky: DN readers help out; teen pays it forward

Matthew Marrero with his mom, Maria Laboy, who inspired the teen to share his good fortune.
Matthew Marrero with his mom, Maria Laboy, who inspired the teen to share his good fortune. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 07, 2012

THIS JOB never ceases to surprise me.

Last week, I wrote about Matthew Marrero, the 14-year-old eighth-grader who was running a daily sidewalk sale on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 3rd Street, so he could help his parents buy his back-to-school supplies.

He'd sold $150 of merchandise - some of it his own toys and video games - but was $150 shy of what he needed to buy pencils, notebooks, binders, sneakers and a uniform.

Readers have responded from the heart and the wallet to the tale of a broke kid with more hustle than self-pity. Close to $3,000 has come in for Matt, plus gift cards to places like Staples, Target and Foot Locker, so he should hit the ground running at Penn Treaty Middle School Friday.

Such generosity isn't unusual. Daily News readers are benevolent folks. When a story moves them to help, they can't get their checkbooks open fast enough.

What has stunned me to tears, though, is how Matt has responded to the kindness of strangers. Now that he has his supplies, he's tapping into what's left to help four children in his area - kids whose families are struggling financially, the way his is - buy the things they, too, need to get their year off to a happy start.

One girl, he says, had only one copybook and one pencil for school. Her parents are out of the picture at the moment, and the family with whom she is staying is having a rough time. Now that Matt's luck has changed - readers have pulled up to his sidewalk stand and handed him bags of back-to-school goodies - he wants to change her luck as well.

So he has given her a backpack, copybooks, paper, pens and pencils and the uniform she needs to be compliant with her school's dress code.

"She really needed help," he says.

He accompanied another child to Foot Locker for sneakers. When the boy shyly chose an inexpensive pair, Matt told him to select a higher-end brand that would fit better and, hopefully, won't sag in the first snowfall.

"I want him to be comfortable," says Matt.

Any money left over from Matt's gig as a Good Samaritan will go into a savings account. But he won't touch it, he says, until next fall, when he hopes to enter high school at the Military Academy at Elverson. He thinks the uniforms there might be pricey.

But his generosity won't end as high school begins.

"Every year, I'm going to help kids buy school stuff," he says, which is why he plans to hold another sidewalk sale next year, to shore up funds. "I want to help people the way I've been helped. I don't want people to think I'm greedy."

He was inspired by his mom, Maria Laboy, and dad, Junior Marrero, who always try to lend a hand where they can, he says.

"I said, 'Matt, this is how it works: When someone gives to you, you give to another person,' " says Laboy. "You pass it on."

Among Matt's fans are Missy Martin, wife of Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who read Matt's story and offered to treat him and his family to a game at Citizens Bank Park. And Reuben F. Mills, the interim superintendent of Camden's public schools, who sent Matt a check because he knows well the forces that work against inner-city kids who try to do the right thing. And Jermaine Pinkney, who bought himself a new computer just before he read Matt's story - so he donated his used one to Matt.

A sextet of public-health grad students at La Salle pooled their pennies and bought Matt a generous Visa gift card. A public-relations exec at Staples got wind of Matt's story and gave him a gift card to the store. An Eagles ticketholder hand-delivered to Matt two tickets to the Birds' exhibition game last Thursday against the New York Jets. And Jason Pettaccio of JP's Tees, which produces the uniform shirts for Penn Treaty Middle School, offered to cover Matt's shirt needs for the year.

These gifts are on top of numerous financial donations, big and small, that have poured into the Daily News for Matt.

"I can't believe people care so much!" says Matt, who has folded his sales business for the season and can't wait to start school. "No one has ever done anything like this for me. I feel thankful that people believed me. I want them to be proud of me."

I think they already are.


Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at polaner@phillynews.com or 215-854-2217. Follow her on Twitter @RonniePhilly. Read her blog at philly.com/ronnieblog, or for recent columns go to philly.com/Ronnie.

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