For fifth year, community carves hearts on pumpkins to honor Summer Steele

  • A load of pumpkins at Maple Row Farm in Buckland, which is donating pumpkins to people who would like to carve one with a heart in honor of Summer Steele, a 9-year-old Plainfield girl who died on Oct. 28, 2016. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Maple Row Farm in Buckland, which is donating pumpkins to people who would like to carve one with a heart in honor of Summer Steele, a 9-year-old Plainfield girl who died on Oct. 28, 2016. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Summer Steele COURTESY PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2020 7:24:15 AM
Modified: 10/23/2020 7:24:05 AM

BUCKLAND — With Halloween just around the corner, families are picking out the perfect pumpkins and getting ready to carve them with the design of their choice.

And throughout Franklin County and beyond, many of those pumpkins will be carved with hearts and lit up for others to enjoy — just as they have for the last four years in honor of Summer Steele, the 9-year-old Plainfield girl who was killed on Oct. 28, 2016 after her backpack got caught in the door of a school bus and she was run over.

“A few days after she passed … we looked out the window and our neighbor had put some heart-shaped pumpkins, lining the road,” said her mother, Amanda Gaffigan, this week. “It kind of went from there. People all over the town, and towns close by, started to do it in memory of her.”

Summer, who was a student at Sanderson Academy in Ashfield, loved pumpkins, and she loved to draw hearts — so it was a fitting way to remember her, her mother said.

“A year later, the community gathered — all of Summer’s friends and a lot of our close friends and family — and they did a big, huge carving at the Sanderson Academy in Ashfield,” Gaffigan said.

Families went home and started to disperse the carved pumpkins throughout the community, she said.

Gaffigan, who now lives in Buckland, said similar events have been held over the last four years, including a fundraiser at Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont, where money raised went to the Summer Steele Scholarship Fund.

This year, however, with COVID-19 limiting gatherings, those types of events aren’t possible. But the family still plans to honor Summer by continuing the tradition of carving a pumpkin with a heart, and they’re asking others to do so as well.

“Me and her father (Brent),” Gaffigan said, “we just do what we can to keep her memory alive.”

This year, as it has in the past, Maple Row Farm in Buckland is donating pumpkins to people who would like to carve one in Summer’s honor.

“The whole community is behind this family,” said owner Ben Hay.

On a Facebook post shared by the family earlier this week, 75 people from all over the country commented to say they will be carving a pumpkin for Summer. The post was shared nearly 250 times.

In addition to keeping Summer’s memory alive, her family aims to raise awareness about how she died.

“We’re trying to work on bus laws,” Gaffigan said, noting that she and others wrote hundreds of letters to lawmakers in March. “It’s about trying to raise awareness. It’s about a little girl who was tragically killed, and we’re trying to make a difference so it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

Summer’s family is grateful for the love and support the community has shown them.

“It’s terrifying for us to have to live like this every day,” Gaffigan said. “It doesn’t get easier. But I’m very, very touched, because people don’t forget her.”




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