Help get Marko back in goal

Liam Sobey, store manager of the Thrifty Foods at Austin Station in Coquitlam, will be camping outside the store from April 15 to 21 to help raise money for BC Children
Liam Sobey, store manager of the Thrifty Foods at Austin Station in Coquitlam, will be camping outside the store from April 15 to 21 to help raise money for BC Children's Hospital's oncology department in honour of employee Paula Marconato, whose son is battling bone cancer.

A trip to Thrifty Foods in Coquitlam next week could help put Marko Marconato back in the net, ready to stop the onslaught of peewee hockey pucks he'd like to see coming his way.

For now, however, Marko is battling bone cancer at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver.

"Back in December we felt a lump on his arm," said Marko's mom, Paula Marconato. "But he's a goalie and he's quite athletic and he's always getting bumped and bonged so we didn't think much of it."

When the lump hadn't gone down after a couple of weeks Marconato took Marko, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student at Minnekhada middle school, to the doctor for tests. On Jan. 25 they confirmed it was osteosarcoma; a week later he started the chemotherapy treatments that will last to the end of September.

It was devastating news for the Port Coquitlam family, including dad Paul Marconato and Marko's 16-year-old brother, Nicco and 10-year-old sister, Bianca, as well as for Marconato's "other" family — her friends and co-workers at the Austin Station Thrifty Foods.

"It's the kind of story that pulls on everyone's heart strings," said the store's manager, Liam Sobey. "Everyone wanted to do something to help."

Marconato suggested the Children's Hospital oncology ward could always use funds, so her friend and co-worker, Cori Zecca, spearheaded a group of Thrifty's staffers to organize a fundraising drive at the store from April 15 to 21.

The goal is to raise at least $10,000.

Sobey volunteered to camp outside the store all week — an earlier plan to pitch a tent on the store's roof was scratched because of logistical challenges — to draw more attention to the group's efforts.

"Showering might be a bit complicated but food will be the least of my concerns," Sobey said, gesturing towards the store's front doors.

Sobey has challenged his fellow store managers at 27 Thrifty Foods locations in B.C. to each raise at least $3,000; if they do, he'll shave his head on Saturday to kick off the fundraising week.

On Sunday, April 15 Sobey will be pitching his tent outside Thrifty's at 10:30 a.m. and the barbecue will be fired up until 4:30 p.m.

Fundraising activities continue throughout the week:

• April 16, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. - Smiles for Marko Day, with balloons and cookies by donation

• April 17, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. - raffle by donation (get an entry form with each donation)

• April 18, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. - catch Thrifty's staff in action as they ride a stationary bike throughout the day

• April 19, 4 to 6 p.m. - the (tired and sore) staff take part in a hot wings eating contest

• April 20, 4 to 6 p.m. - Camp Out with Liam and join the hockey shoot-out

• April 21, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. - wind-up barbecue

There are other ways to help out as well. Shoppers can "give Marko a hand" by purchasing a hand cut-out at the till in honour of someone they know who's been affected by cancer; the hands are then put up on the wall at the front of the store.

People can also donate online at

Marconato said she and Marko couldn't believe it when they heard what Thrifty's was doing.

"Oh my goodness he's so wonderful and I mean that with my heart," she said of Sobey. "I love working at Thrifty's...and I've made a lot of friends there; they're somewhat of a family."

And there's no doubt they'll be thinking of Marconato and her family when Marko undergoes a 13-hour surgery next week.

"They call it reconstructive surgery because they have to take the whole bone out and then replace it, if they can even save the arm," Marconato said from outside her son's hospital room.

It's a rough go for a young kid, but Marconato said her son — a huge fan of Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks — is holding up remarkably well.

"He's a good kid, he doesn't complain," she said. "His biggest question in life is when he'll get to play hockey again."



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