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Four East Meadow friends dedicate their Halloween costumes to personal causes


Lifelong best friends Lyla Meslin, Samantha Panzica, Ella Merkle and Ashley O’Connor have been planning their Halloween costumes since August. Each suggested a number of different ideas for a group theme, but they couldn’t agree on any of them. Then they brainstormed one that would give them more than just an outfit to wear while trick-or-treating.

The friends, all fifth-graders at Parkway Elementary School in East Meadow, will dress as OPI nail polish bottles. They will sport black hats and shirts to represent the bottle cap, and each will wear a different colored tutu and pair of socks to resemble the nail polish.

Each color they chose represents a personal cause, and on Halloween the girls will set up a booth and collect donations for their causes at Ella’s house, on Taylor Avenue in East Meadow, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Lyla will wear red and raise money for the Marfan Foundation; Samantha choose purple, to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association; Ella picked pink, for breast cancer, and will donate to the American Cancer Society; and Ashley will sport blue, and is still deciding on a nonprofit dedicated to autism awareness.

Lyla’s uncle recently died of aortic dissection associated with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by a defect in the body’s production of certain connective tissue. Marfan syndrome can lead to a number of different medical issues like aortic dissection, in which the layers of the heart’s aortic wall tear or rupture.

Samantha chose Alzheimer’s disease as her cause because of two personal connections to it: Her great aunt Louise has it, and her great-grandmother Eleanor died of complications related to it. 

Ella’s grandmother died of breast cancer at 58, three years before Ella was born. “I never actually got to meet her,” Ella said. “ I wanted to raise money for people who are going through the same thing.”

While Ashley doesn’t have a personal connection to autism, she has long been passionate about autism awareness.

The girls contacted nonprofits representing their causes, and each sent them bracelets to give to those who donate. Ella’s father works for PSEG Long Island, which donated personal protective equipment for them to use while collecting donations. And they reached out to OPI nail polish, which will put the girls’ cause on its website.

To date, the girls have raised $500 by posting about their causes on Facebook. They showed off their costumes and shared their causes last Friday night at a party coordinated by East Meadow parents at the United Skates roller rink in Seaford.

“What excites me the most is that I could help other people who had what my grandma had, and they could keep getting better,” Ella said.

The girls’ parents attended East Meadow High School together, but the girls became friends only after attending pre-kindergarten together. Now, they are all active in Girl Scout Troop 1457. Ella and Samantha are also cheerleaders, Ella and Ashley play basketball together, and Samantha and Lyla are competitive dancers.

“They’ve been missing out on a lot this year because of the pandemic,” Samantha’s mother, Randi Panzica, said, referring to their canceled Girl Scout activities, sports seasons and dance recitals. “It means a lot to them to be able to do this together,” she said. 

Anyone can contribute to their causes before Halloween by sending a donation to Randi Panzica via her Venmo account, @Randi-Panzica.