BARROWS-"Animal Alphabet" was Lucas Paul Coe's favorite book.
The toddler loved it most when his dad read it to him, imitating the calls and growls of each of the creatures representing the letters of the alphabet-"A" for alligator, "B" for bear and 24 others. It became a ritual for the pair as Lucas almost always chose the small, interactive book at story time.
Now, Erica and Bryan Coe of rural Brainerd are ensuring the memory of their 15-month-old son Lucas, who died unexpectedly in early 2015, lives on through the enjoyment other families share with his favorite book.
"I don't want him to go forgotten," Erica said. "I'm sure he won't, but at the same time you always worry."
Lucas died Feb. 27, 2015, at Minneapolis Children's Hospital after choking at a home day care less than a half-mile from the Coe home on County Road 123. Erica was a little more than four months pregnant with the couple's second son, Kyle, when the incident occurred.
"It was the worst day of our lives," Erica said. "A lot of questions, a lot of, you wonder why. But you're never going to know. He went to day care a healthy, happy boy, and that was the last I saw him."
Initiated by Erica's aunt, Kari Paulson of Oakdale, the goal of the Lucas Paul Book Drive is to collect 576 copies of "Animal Alphabet" to donate to hospitals-Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, Lakewood Health Systems in Staples and the Minneapolis Children's Hospital.
"Our goal is to give these out to families that have babies at the local hospitals, so when they deliver at the hospital they will get this included in this little take home package amongst all the stuff that they get to take home," Erica said. "We're hoping it will entice them to start early reading to their child, and they will enjoy the book as well."
The number of books the family is seeking to collect was arrived at by multiplying the date of Lucas' birthday-the 24th of November-by the age he would have been that day, 24 months. Kari created a fundraising page on www.gofundme.com and a Facebook event page to collect monetary donations as well as to provide contact information to send copies of the book.
Erica said she's receiving copies of "Animal Alphabet" in the mail every day, sometimes with notes included and other times anonymously.
So far, the campaign has garnered 180 books and more than $1,200 toward purchasing additional copies. A family member got in touch with the author of "Animal Alphabet," Alex A. Lluch, who offered to give the family a 50 percent discount on a bulk order directly from him. The copies intended for Brainerd area hospitals are each personalized with "In Loving Memory of Lucas Paul" stickers, decorated with another of Lucas' favorite things, a tractor.
Any books collected beyond the family's goal will be donated as well, and all funds will be used to purchase more copies of "Animal Alphabet" or perhaps toward future book drive events.
Erica said she hopes this book drive is the beginning of an annual event, one that will continue to grow and expand to other books-perhaps including those written for parents who've suffered the loss of a child. Erica said there were few options on the topic available at the local library, and she ordered several online.
The loss of Lucas has connected her with other parents who've suffered similar losses, and she said the outpouring of support the family received following Lucas' death was overwhelming.
"We've also made new friends through the tragedy," Erica said.
The family is also working to ensure others are educated on choking prevention. Erica said her mother-in-law, Barb Coe, is developing a pamphlet describing Lucas' tragic death that doubles as an educational tool. Called a "Choke Check," the pamphlet contains instructions to roll it into a tube of a certain width.
"If anything fits in that tube, they say you shouldn't have it out within reach," Erica said.
The pamphlets will be distributed at day cares, hospitals, family clinics, YMCAs-any place where parents and children congregate.
It's been less than a year since the loss of her child, and Erica said every day remains difficult without him. But each time she reads "Animal Alphabet" to her 6-month-old son Kyle, Lucas is with her, she said-and the happiness he expressed will live on through each child who experiences his favorite book.
To donate to the Lucas Paul Book Drive
• Visit www.gofundme.com/mvcjatzg, the gofundme page for the "Book Drive in Honor of Lucas Paul."
• Search for the "Lucas Paul Book Drive" event page on Facebook.
• Send copies of "Animal Alphabet" or a check, written to Erica and Bryan Coe, to: Erica Coe, 8284 County Road 123, Brainerd, MN, 56401.