A selfless gift: Westhampton woman commemorates daughter’s kidney donation and honors late co-workers through toy fund

  • A kidney-shaped cookie that Charlene Bordonaro gave to her boss, Chris Quental.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 12/1/2021 7:28:59 PM
Modified: 12/1/2021 7:28:27 PM

WESTHAMPTON — To an onlooker, it might have seemed bizarre that Charlotte Wood chose to give her daughter, Charlene Bordonaro, a can of kidney beans as a Christmas present last year. 

To Wood, however, this “gag gift” had personal significance, as it was a gesture of admiration toward her daughter who had donated a kidney to her boss, Chris Quental, in January 2020. 

In the 22 years that Bordonaro has worked as a director of project management at CIGNA Healthcare, she and Quental developed a quality relationship.

“He always was very good to me as a manager,” she said. 

This was especially true when Bordonaro was struggling with the death of her father due to complications from Alzheimer's disease in 2018. Wood said that Quental “gave (Bordonaro) all the time off she wanted and everything,” to help her recover from the loss. 

After receiving that kindness, Bordonaro recalled her mother asking her, “How will you ever repay him?” When Quental needed a kidney in 2020, Bordonaro said she felt compelled to see if hers was a match. 

“She was as good a donor as if they were brother and sister!” Wood exclaimed. 

A year after the surgery, Quental put together a song called “There’s a Part” to capture his thankfulness for Bordonaro’s gift. The kidney donation has become a part of their relationship, as she went on to gift Quental kidney-shaped cookies from Pure Love Bakery’s promotion for “sharing your spare,” Bordonaro said. 

To honor her daughter’s kindness, Wood donated $25 to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund in Bordonaro’s name, one of two donations made by Wood this year. 

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury, and Leverett, and in Holyoke in Hampden County. 

CSO-The Bridge Family Resource Center at 101 University Drive in Amherst verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers. 

Wood’s other donation, also for $25, was given in memory of Don MacLeod and Debbie Brooks, two former educators at the Westhampton Elementary School, where Wood had taught language, reading, and writing for 25 years until she retired 11 years ago. 

Wood said that Brooks was a close friend of hers and mentioned that the two even shared a retirement party upon leaving the school. Brooks worked as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at the school for 35 years, long enough that all three of Wood’s children, who are now in their 40s, were all students of Brooks when they themselves went through elementary school. 

MacLeod worked as the principal of Westhampton Elementary School for 34 years and also was close to Wood. Although he died in 2007, Brooks’ passing last October inspired Wood to donate in honor of both educators. The two were passionate about their jobs and Wood summed them up in one word: “dedicated.” 

Wood has been donating to the toy fund for 25 years, often in memory of people she cares about, such as her late husband Kenneth Wood and even “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek last year. 

“This year I was trying to be a little different,” she said of her choice to commemorate her daughter instead. 

“She’s a very caring person… she always has time for others,” Wood said. 

Bordonaro might claim that her generosity was learned through her mother, said Wood, who argues that her daughter is even more selfless than she is.

“I planted the seed and then the seed grew bigger with her,” Wood said. 

Donating a kidney is “something most people don’t do,” Wood added. “What a wonderful gift to give someone!”

The following stores are participating in the toy fund this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Blue Marble/Little Blue, 150 Main St., Level 1, Northampton; High Five Books, 141 N. Main St., Florence; The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Once Upon A Child,1458 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Plato's Closet, 1472 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 W. Bay Road, Amherst; World Eye Bookshop, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co., 1584 Dwight St. No. 1, Holyoke.

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