Lisle woman's Halloween display is also a blood drive honoring her late sister
Kristyn Jo Benedyk doesn't usually decorate for Halloween, but something about this year felt different.
As she decked out her Lisle house in festive lights and blowup characters and creepy critters, she thought back to last year's Halloween and realized what sparked her newfound spooky spirit: That was the last holiday she spent with her sister, Kim Sandford, before her health took a turn for the worse.
"There was so much laughter and fun," Benedyk said. "I think that holiday is always going to have a special place in my heart."
While building up her Halloween display piece by piece, Benedyk started noticing cars stopping or driving by slowly to check out her decorations, she said. She decided to "put the attention to good use."
A large, black banner is now plastered across her garage door with the words "Donate your blood" spelled out in spooky red lettering. Beneath it, the sign reads "#apintforkim," referencing the blood drive events and overarching movement created to honor Sandford's memory.
Sandford, of Naperville, fought various forms of cancer on and off for eight years before her death in March. She spent the last several months of her life in and out of the hospital, starting around Thanksgiving of last year, her sister said.
During that time, Sandford received frequent blood and platelet transfusions to help her fight the disease, extend her life and give her more time with her family, including her husband, Rob, and their two sons, Ricky, 13, and JD, who is now 12.
Five days after her death, Sandford's sisters and other relatives organized an inaugural blood drive in her name. More than 500 people participated, Benedyk said, kicking off an ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the importance of donating blood.
"I feel like there are people who wake up every day and want to do something good, but our lives get really busy and they don't know how," Benedyk said. "Donating blood is just a really easy way to have an immediate impact on somebody's life and change the world."
People often think of donated blood as being used to treat trauma patients, Benedyk said, but most don't realize how many cancer patients depend on it while undergoing chemotherapy. She has shared that message -- and Sandford's story -- with the passersby who stop to admire her Halloween display, which has been added to a community map of festive Naperville-area displays.
Since her death, Sandford's family has been working with the blood bank Versiti to host smaller-scale blood drives, including several this month in honor of what would have been her 50th birthday, Benedyk said. At least 20 people signed up to donate blood during a mobile event held Thursday outside Benedyk's house.
In February, a series of blood transfusions gave Sandford the strength to leave the hospital and spend Valentine's Day making cookies with her sons, her sister the said. The goal of "A Pint for Kim" is to give other families that same gift that money can't buy: Time.
"There's no substitution for people donating blood," she said. "It's about the continued awareness that your donations are buying people more holidays with their families."