WILTON — Mittens, hats, gloves and winter wear collected by a Wilton family were donated Wednesday for children at Academy Hill and Cushing schools. 

When family members gathered at the home of Tony and Carolyn McLaughlin for Christmas this year, it was all about spending time with one another and collecting winter clothing for others, Carolyn said.

A gift exchange for themselves gave way to bringing hats and mittens.

But, the collection was also a special act done in loving memory of daughter-in-law, Gabrielle Farhat McLaughlin, 38, of Colorado. Known as Gabe, she died in October after a three-year battle with cancer.

Gabe was married to Tony’s son, David McLaughlin, who was raised locally and graduated from Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, she said. The couple have a daughter, Serrana, 11, and a son, Quinn, 7.

As she accepted the gift at Academy Hill School, nurse Kimberly Huntley said the items will help many children.

Some winter wear may also be donated to Head Start and the homeless shelter, McLaughlin said.

But, there was more.

The extended family decided to do as many random acts of kindness as they possibly could to honor Gabe and her memory. Friends and the couple’s church family joined in. 

One person made applesauce and gave it to a neighbor. Another bought a pizza dinner to give to another family. Someone paid the road toll for someone else. One knit 45 hats for the cause. The church bought glasses for someone … specifically to celebrate Gabe, she said.

“It snowballed. The family was taken aback by the heartfelt acts,” she said. “Each gave back in some way.”

McLaughlin started keeping track of each act reported to her. She plans to create a scrapbook of all that’s been done and give it to David and their grandchildren this spring.

“Throughout a courageous and determined three-year challenge fighting cancer, our daughter-in-law Gabe was still able to focus on helping others, on her family and on her many friends,” according to a writing given out with the winter wear.

When Gabe died, there was no formal service or obituary. A celebration of her life was held in Colorado but Tony was in the hospital. The couple could not attend.

The random acts “give us an opportunity to talk abut her and express our feelings,” Carolyn said. “We are so pleased.”

The acts continue and Carolyn is prepared to accept reports by phone at 645-2312.

Each one continues to help others and keep Gabe’s memory alive with them, she said.

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