Boy's cancer is gone, but get-well cards -- millions of them -- keep coming

September 01, 1993|By New York Times News Service

There once was a boy named Craig, who in the midst of his fight against cancer asked strangers to grant a simple request: Send get-well cards, lots of them, enough to lift a sick child's spirits and break a world record.

Craig Shergold got his wish. Ordinary people and heads of state alike responded to the 7-year-old British boy's plea, sending more than 16 million greeting cards in a year's time and breaking the standing record within months. Now, four years later, Craig Shergold has his record and his health. Doctors removed most of a cancerous brain tumor in 1991 and say the disease has not returned.

But Craig's request lives on through a flurry of chain letters making the rounds of offices in Manhattan and other cities around the country. And as thousands of cards continue to pour in, those who first publicized the boy's appeal have some words for the rest of the world: Enough already.

"We've got a 10,000-square-foot warehouse that is stacked to the ceiling with mail that still hasn't been opened," said Arthur Stein, president of the Atlanta-based Children's Wish Foundation International, which began the initial card campaign in 1989. "There's no way to stop it. Everyone keeps saying quit, and people ignore the pleas."

In a latter-day version of the children's game called telephone, Craig's plight continues to be resurrected in letters delivered via mail carrier and fax machine, with facts so different from the original story, the tale is at times almost unrecognizable.

The letters now ask for business cards instead of get-well cards. Depending on which letter you get, Craig's last name may be Schergold, or Sherfold. And the letters either switch the names of two foundations that grant wishes to seriously ill children, or name a foundation that does not exist at all.

To complicate matters further, many of the cards are mailed to an Atlanta address that does not exist and are eventually re-routed to the Children's Wish Foundation headquarters. Some the envelopes simply say "Wish Foundation," with no address or ZIP code. And Mr. Stein said his staff has put on display one envelope that read "To The Boy Who Is Sick In The Hospital, In Arizona, Or Colorado." And, while the drive has been going on for years, the boy named in the appeal is still 7 and still terminally ill.

The Children's Wish Foundation uses a donated warehouse and staff of 40 volunteers to handle the nearly 300,000 cards sent in every week, Mr. Stein said. The Phoenix-based Make-a-Wish Foundation of America, which never dealt with the Shergold boy or his request, has established a telephone line to tell the public ,, the current card appeal is not legitimate, nor are they involved.

And there has been a concerted effort to spread the word that cards are no longer wanted.

"I would suspect we have surpassed 100 million" cards, Mr. Stein said.

At the familiy's request, the cards are being recycled.

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