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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – In two years on the Allegheny County Family Court bench, Judge David Spurgeon learned little things matter a lot.
“I started a birthday basket, letting kids pick presents from the birthday basket because I was surprised at the number of things… Their needs are met, but those little extras aren’t met sometimes when you are part of the foster care system,” Spurgeon said.
For many kids, Judge Spurgeon is the one person who is always there for them.
“They started bringing me report cards, medals and trophies that they won for an athletic event or pictures from a school play,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow. I guess I am the constant because they want to bring that to me like they do to other people in their lives.'”
Now, their artwork decorates his bench — because many of them don’t have the traditional family refrigerator.
Safe to say, that the kids love Judge Spurgeon’s birthday basket.
“Sometimes it’s earbuds or sometimes it’s nail polish or sometimes it’s something you wouldn’t even think about, [something] practical — like a calculator,” he said.
Sisters Jessica Hetherington and Autumn Dougherty grew up with Judge Spurgeon in White Oak. They learned about his birthday basket through social media.
“I couldn’t imagine not having someone making you feel special — just one time and someone caring,” Hetherington said. “So when I saw that Judge Spurgeon did that, I contacted him and said, hey, I’d like to participate. I knew that he was going to say, ‘No. No. I got this.'”
Turns out, she knew her friend pretty well.
“I said, ‘No. I don’t need your help. I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it,’” Spurgeon said. “But, she did something anyhow.”
Hetherington, a sergeant in the White Oak Police Department, did something she had never done; she ignored the judge. She started a private Facebook page and made it clear to all her friends and the judge’s friends that Spurgeon was not to know what they were doing.
Next, she called her sister who owns a Ziebart location in McKeesport.
Dougherty couldn’t wait to jump in with both feet and reached out to her friends.
“Our inner circle of girls, of course, but then when you get on social media and their friends see it, and then friends of David’s saw it, it was just — they couldn’t wait to pitch in,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty’s business quickly became one of the drop-off locations. In just two weeks, they assembled nearly 50 baskets to give to the kids.
The judge said there were so many baskets that it took a lot of sheriff’s deputies to get them into the courthouse and into his chambers. Now, they will have some things other kids might take for granted.
“The kids go from placement to placement,” Spurgeon said. “They don’t have things that most kids would have. Sometimes it is those intangibles that make you feel secure.”
The birthday gifts will help the judge make more kids feel special next year.
Hetherington said thanks to the right people around her, it really wasn’t hard to make things happen.
“It’s really easy to do good things when you are surrounded by good people,” she said.
And there is no shortage of those in Pittsburgh.