(NewsChannel 8) - The Hyattsville community is rallying around the family of an 11 year-old boy who died just one week shy of finishing fifth grade.
Melvin Maldonado lost his four-year battle with brain cancer on Sunday. But, thanks to the generosity of his classmates and their families, he got the burial he deserved.
While students at University Park Elementary School prepare for the last day of classes on Friday, one desk in Mrs. Moore's fifth grade class is noticeably empty.
"He's the light of the world," said Maldonado's older brother, Gerardo Moran.
Moran says his brother loved Spongebob and airplanes before his death.
The family hasn't had much time to mourn because bills have been piling up. They couldn't afford to pay for Melvin's funeral and their home is on the brink of foreclosure. That's where complete strangers like Rene O'Dell have been stepping in.
"I first laid eyes on Melvin at the funeral home," O'Dell said.
O'Dell's two children go to Melvin's school. When she heard about his story, she set up a crowdfunding account called 'Melvin's Smile.' So far the gofundme.com website has raised more than $38,000 with donations coming from as far away as London.
In a strange way, O'Dell says Melvin's death has brought the community closer as parents realize death can hit anyone anywhere.
"My son has asked me that, what would I do if it were him. And it's too much. It's too much for the mind and body to take on," O'Dell said.
Melvin's father doesn't speak much English, but says they're grateful for the public's help. His son's desk may be empty, but that smile is living on.