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4-year-old cancer patient surprised with play set

New gift gives Branch a safe place to play

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A local 4-year-old boy who has pediatric cancer was surprised with a play set Thursday at the Point Meadows Winn-Dixie.

Branch and his family, including his younger brother Meric, arrived at the store on Baymeadows Road, and the surprise was revealed when a semitrailer, which was in front of the play set, drove away.

“I literally felt like I was on TV where they’re like ‘move that truck!’ It was super exciting,” said Echo Klitz, Branch’s mother. “My heart was racing. I mean, it was like a pure adrenaline like you can’t describe.”

Volunteers from Winn-Dixie and Gwaltney constructed the play set, which the family took home. The new gift gives Branch a safe place to play.

“Branch has literally probably talked about this play set every day for the last 6-8 months,” Klitz said. “We were actually going to buy one, and then we came across this amazing foundation.”

Shawn Sloan, with Winn-Dixie, said the family was also gifted $500 in gift cards so they can stock their pantry at home.

Thursday’s event was part of Gwaltney’s Building On Hope campaign in which Gwaltney has donated $50,000 to support nonprofit Roc Solid Foundation, which travels the country, gathering volunteers and building play sets for pediatric cancer patients, who often aren’t able to play at public playgrounds.

“This play set, it allows teams and organizations to come in and do team-building exercises, to build and better their organizations,” said Roc Solid Foundation Chief Play Officer Eric Newman. “And in reality what it does is for Roc Solid Foundation, it allows us to provide play to kids fighting pediatric cancer.”

Gwaltney’s donation will provide Roc Solid play sets to 13 families across the Southeast for the next two months.

“Our business is more than just moving meat and making money,” said Justin Smith, with Gwaltney at Smithfield Foods. “Our business is about impacting our community.”

The home play sets aim to give children the opportunity to play safely and not think about their diagnosis.


About the Author:

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.