Abraham Olagbegi is 13 and has a rare blood disorder.
He could have asked for a PlayStation, a shopping spree or a trip to Disneyland, but there was only one thing he felt strongly about.
“I really want to feed the homeless,” he said.
His mom was momentarily surprised.
“But when I think about the kind of kid he is, his answer made perfect sense,” said Olagbegi, who lives in Jackson, Miss.
Together, they filled out the Make-A-Wish application, which asks recipients to outline their wish and their reasons for wanting it to come true. Children between the ages of 2 and 18 who suffer from a critical illness are eligible for a wish.
“I would like for the homeless people at Poindexter Park in Jackson to receive one hot meal a month every month for the rest of the year or for an entire year,” Abraham wrote on the form.
He explained his reasoning behind his wish: “Before I got sick, me and my family would go feed the homeless at that park every month. Since I became sick, my family had to stop doing it. I really want to do something impactful.”
Abraham said he didn’t have to think hard about what to wish for. The decision, he said, was “second nature.”
“My mom would always say it’s a blessing to be a blessing,” Abraham said in an interview with The Washington Post.
After a turbulent year, Olagbegi was touched that her words resonated with her son, and that he wanted to put others before himself.
“It just melted my heart,” she said.
It was nearly a year and a half ago, in June 2020, when Abraham’s world suddenly slammed to a halt.
He had always been healthy, his mother said, but that spring, Olagbegi and her husband started to notice subtle changes in their son’s stamina and overall demeanor. They brushed it off, assuming he had overexerted himself or was simply overtired.
The situation escalated when Abraham woke up in the middle of the night in June, feeling unwell. He fainted in the hallway on his way to his parents’ bedroom.
An ambulance rushed Abraham to the hospital, where he was immediately taken to the emergency room. He underwent tests to determine the cause of his sudden malaise.
His doctors soon discovered that he had aplastic anemia, a rare and life-threatening condition that occurs when the body does not produce enough new blood cells. The condition was triggered by paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a life-threatening blood disease that destroys red blood cells, causes blood clots and affects bone-marrow function. He would require a bone-marrow transplant, his family was told, as part of an intensive treatment protocol.
“It was just a whirlwind,” Olagbegi said.
Abraham went from being a bubbly, active child with boundless energy to a weak, fragile boy confined to a hospital bed.
Despite his diagnosis, though, “I try to always keep good spirits and think about the positive,” said Abraham, who carried on with his schoolwork remotely during his nine months of treatment — one month of which was spent in the hospital.
Beyond attending school and playing basketball with his friends, what Abraham missed the most while he was in the hospital, he said, was feeding the homeless — a regular ritual that he and his family did together. In fact, the day he was admitted to the hospital, he looked over at his mother and said: “Mama, does this mean I won’t get to go and feed the homeless anymore?”
For the past four years, Abraham’s family has been feeding the homeless in their community in Jackson once a month. His great-uncle started the family tradition of cooking together and providing hot meals to those in need.
“Abraham just really took a liking to it. He is always eager to make sure he goes,” Olagbegi said. “He loves just serving personally.”
But when he got sick, the family paused their monthly tradition for a while, because they were preoccupied with Abraham’s treatments. Plus, given the pandemic and Abraham’s fragile health, they avoided interacting with others as much as possible.
“It definitely was a downer to his spirits,” his mother said.
By this past summer, Abraham’s condition was steadily improving following months of chemo and radiation — and a bone-marrow transplant in November 2020 that went smoothly.
After his doctors referred him as a recipient to Make-A-Wish Mississippi, Abraham knew he wanted to use his wish to carry on his family’s mission of feeding those in need.
It was a “perfect opportunity to turn something painful into something joyful,” he said.
Abraham didn’t care to ask for upgraded technology or a trip to an exotic destination. Instead, “I just wanted to help in my community the best way I could,” he continued.
When Linda Sermons, a wish assistant at Make-A-Wish Mississippi, opened Abraham’s paperwork with her manager, “our eyes watered up and we got goose bumps,” she said, adding that Abraham’s wish is the Mississippi chapter’s first philanthropic request. “It was a milestone for us. His wish is selfless.”
Top wish requests include a trip to Disney World, an international vacation, a bedroom makeover and meeting a celebrity. Some wishes are entirely unique — an 8-year-old girl with leukemia, for example, wished to become a mother for a day — while charitable wishes like Abraham’s are very rare.
“Abraham has been an inspiration to us all,” said Allison Tyler, the chief executive of Make-A-Wish Mississippi. “Hundreds of wishes get granted every day across the nation, but being part of his touches the heart.”
The nonprofit organization committed to grant Abraham’s wish, vowing to feed at least 80 homeless people at Poindexter Park on every third Saturday of each month for a full year. The food for the monthly event, which it decided to call “Abraham’s Table,” is supplied by various donors and sponsors, including local churches and businesses.
“This wish is definitely leaving a mark, not only because of the milestone it gave our chapter, but also meeting this family and knowing how the community can truly rally around our kids is just amazing,” Sermons said.
The first two events, Sept. 18 and Oct. 16, were a success, and for Abraham, the best part was “seeing the look on everybody’s faces,” he said. “It just really warms my heart.”
His mother was moved, too.
“You can only do so much with your own resources, but to know that you’ve got people that are willing to pitch in and give their time and money and effort, was just beautiful,” she said. “There is no greater joy than to see that.”
Abraham, his family, Make-A-Wish staff and community members facilitate the monthly event, serving takeout containers packed with hot meals, as well as “blessing bags” filled with essential supplies, including toothbrushes, masks and bars of soap.
During the first event, they offered fried chicken, macaroni, greens and lemon cake, and on the second, spaghetti was served.
Abraham’s condition has continued to improve in recent months, and while he is still unable to attend school because his immune system is compromised, his doctors are hopeful that he’ll be back in class in a few months.
Although his blood disorder is not fatal, “it’s something that it’s going to impact him forever,” Olagbegi said. “He will always have to be careful when he’s out in public around people.”
He and his family plan to continue Abraham’s Table, even after the final event organized by Make-A-Wish is held in August.
“We are hoping to one day get food trucks,” Abraham explained, adding that he wants to turn Abraham’s Table into a nonprofit organization.
For now, though, Abraham feels fulfilled.
“My wish has definitely come true,” he said.
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