EAST LYME--A local restaurant is lending a big hand to the family of a young girl fighting cancer for the third time in her short life.
The Shack Restaurant, which has locations in East Lyme, Waterford and Groton, is helping to raise awareness about Madeline Guarria's fight against leukemia.
Maddie is just 9 years old from Niantic, and has been visiting the restaurant her whole life. So when they learned she had cancer for the first time five years ago, it was a tough pill to swallow.
"They've watched her since she was a baby," said Jim Morgan, who is part of the family that owns The Shack Restaurants, which have been owned by the same family for 27 years. He was speaking about his staff, who love preparing Maddie's favorite chocolate chip pancakes for her. "We're really heartbroken about what's happening now."
Maddie was first diagnosed with cancer at age 4, and she survived it twice--including late 2014 to early 2015, when her 19-month-old brother donated bone marrow for her after they discovered he was a match. However, this third time is different, and according to a Facebook page called Mad about Madeline, which is operated by her mother, Amie, they've changed from trying to fight cancer to trying to make Maddie comfortable. "Her cancer is growing rapidly and her care from this point forward will focus only on symptom control and end of life care," she wrote in a recent update.
But The Shack Restaurant has been a beacon of light during the trying time for the family, and has helped keep them fed at a time when food is at the bottom of the list of priorities. When Maddie's parents come in, food is waiting. And when they can't leave the house, Jim Morgan delivers to their front door.
"Anything that they want, any food that they want, we make sure it's provided for them," said Morgan.
And while you may not see pictures of the staff's "hero" hanging around, you will feel her warmth when you pay: each receipt has a message that says "The Shack is 'Mad About Madeline' --Roar on little tiger." That last part refers to Madeline's love for tigers, which eventually developed into a mantra to stay strong during her fight. And, she has made it a point to collect tigers to send to sick children nationwide. “She says that the tigers give people strength,” Amie Guarraia told FOX 61 in December 2014.
"We just do it because it's the right thing to do," Morgan said of the receipt's message.
And it's not the only "right" thing that The Shack does. The restaurant opens its doors, and its hearts, to all those who need it. "The bottom line is important, but when it comes to that, it's not," Morgan said.
A message from Wednesday on the Mad About Madeline Facebook page asked for love and prayers for Maddie, her siblings, her parents and all those who love her, but said they have accepted the point that they are at after trying everything to heal her for five years. "Madeline has fought for 5 years. As humans it is our will to try to save each other- to give our loved ones more time on this earth. And that's exactly what we did for Madeline as she continued the fight. But after a while it comes at a selfish expense. We believe there is much more than what we see here. We believe that Madeline is SO much bigger than this world. And we believe that what we all need to do at this point is to stop trying to hold her back from the beautiful things that await her. With all she has given us, the best thing we can give her is the 'ok' to be at peace."
They're asking for people to share with Maddie how her story has touched them. For more, click here.