The Sanitation Workers Who Brought Joy To 5-Year-Old Facing Leukemia

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — There were few dry eyes in the house as the City of New Rochelle honored a sanitation crew that made a point of bringing a smile to the face of their biggest fan, only later realizing the impact they had on the small child.

The G-31 sanitation crew look forward to their stop at the Stokes family home, where the garbage pickups are always accompanied by excited honks and waves. The weekly stop fast became an anticipated event for each of the family’s two young sons.

The crew began making a point to honk as they approached to alert the kids. If the two young fans weren’t in the window when the sanitation workers drove by, they knew to repeat the process because the kids were at their grandparents’ house, just down the road.

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In November, the Stokes’ 5-year-old, Leo, was hospitalized because of leukemia. While working towards recovery, he missed seeing the crew outside his window so much that he drew a picture of their truck for his familiar friends in high-vis vests.

The crew of G-31, Will Smith, Rashad Amaro and Leroy Johnson, not only proudly displayed the artwork in their truck, but as Christmas approached, they delivered a large, fully functional toy garbage truck to him, instantly bringing a bright smile as he gleamed, watching them through the window.

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Leo’s mother said that because of his treatments, the energetic 5-year-old was immunocompromised and spent more time indoors than most kids his age. The visit on garbage day became a much-needed distraction from cabin fever.

“We were so touched by the kindness and generosity of the G-31 crew, especially when they delivered the garbage truck to Leo,” Leanna Stokes said, fighting back tears. “It brought a smile to his face and brightened his day during a difficult time. We’re grateful for the hard work and dedication of our local sanitation workers, and we’re thrilled to see them recognized with the Employee Recognition Award. They truly go above and beyond to serve our community.”

Stokes wrote to the city to let the bosses know exactly how much the crew’s simple act of kindness meant to her family.

Public Works Commissioner Will Melendez said the vital work the city employees in his department accomplish each and every day often goes on behind the scenes with little fanfare. He admits that of the hundreds of emails he gets every week, most are not compliments.

Melendez said that he held back tears as he read the email from a grateful mother. He told those gathered that he felt pride not only as the boss, but was deeply touched on a personal level.

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“Our goal as Public Works professionals is to serve the community,” Melendez explained. “These three employees have demonstrated the best of what that means and we are proud to recognize them.”

Melendez begin sharing the email with his colleagues in the department and at New Rochelle City Hall. Soon, the G-31 crew realized they had become some fast celebrities.

“Word spread fast,” Smith said. “People were stopping us and saying, ‘What are you guys doing out there?'”

Smith held back tears as he spoke about his young daughter’s struggle with sickle cell disease and, speaking for his co-workers, said that the connection with the Stokes has meant more to the workers than the family will ever know.

“I want to thank the Stokes family for their kind heartfelt words,” Smith said. “What was really touching was when Leo brought the picture of his garbage truck out to us, that hangs in our cab. It shows we are not just here picking up garbage, we’re there doing what we do. We are very grateful to be part of this.”

The crew’s kindness became an inspired choice for the return of the City of New Rochelle’s Employee Recognition program, facilitated by the Departments of Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In the coming months, employees from each of the city’s departments will be nominated and recognized for their excellence.

On Thursday, Smith, Amaro and Johnson received accolades from city leaders, including Mayor Noam Bramson and City Manager Kathleen Gill. The men were also given plaques recognizing their easy decency and thoughtfulness, but the true reward, shared by all involved, was a round of high-fives presented by two young sanitation department superfans.

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