MERRIMAC, Mass. (AP) — For the past six months, Emma Journeay has been collecting souvenirs from 46 countries, 50 states and all the continents, including Antarctica — without stepping foot outside the state.
Emma, who just turned 9, attended third-grade at Merrimac's Donaghue School for only four days in September before being diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma, a malignant cancer that forms in nerve tissue and usually occurs in infants and children.
"She told me that she was a little sad that she wasn't going to be able to do the pen pal picnic this year at school, and I said, 'Well, we're going to do something a heck of a lot better than that,'" said Kathy Terceiro, a family friend and Donaghue School teacher who tutors her.
Thus, Emma's Pen Pal Adventure Around the World was born on Facebook in November.
Emma, who lives in Merrimac with her parents, Derek and Tina Journeay, and older brothers, Jack and Sam, said she had no idea she would get such a response. Some of the thousands of letters and cards she received fill four scrapbooks, with the overflow joining countless gifts in numerous plastic storage containers. On her family's dining room wall hangs a map of the world with the name of her adventure at the top, a gift from a pen pal. Emma's mom marks all the countries represented with a blue push-pin.
"We thought it was going to be local, like our friends might send some cards. We never thought it was going to get around the world," Tina Journeay said.
Emma's first pen pal was a person in Japan, who sent her a kimono. One gift that especially made Emma laugh was a coconut from Hawaii, her name and address written directly on the coconut and postage affixed to it. The Espinosas, an American family that lives in England now and travels extensively, are some of her most devoted pen pals, sending her gifts and letters from everywhere they go.
Merrimac postal carriers Tina Tischler and Greg LeClost, who Terceiro said are "the best ever," deliver the packages and letters directly to Terceiro's classroom at Donaghue School since her home mailbox is too small for all of the bundles. Terceiro brings them to the Journeays' house for Emma to open — or to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston if she is undergoing treatment. Wanting to share her treasures, Emma has given some of the gifts, like Barbie dolls and princess-themed presents, to younger girls also being treated there.
While Emma's illness prevents her from responding to every letter or gift personally, the Journeays try to send a photo postcard of Emma to every sender as a thank you.