Bringing to cheer to children
Story by Katie McDowell
In 2011, Mary Martha and Gary Parisher watched a Tristian Lane Jones opened a bright green box at Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham.
Four years old and battling cancer, Tristian was serving as a product tester for Cheeriodicals, the Parishers’ new business that sold gift boxes full of magazines and snacks. The Parishers also wanted to offer age-appropriate toys for hospitalized children, and they partnered with Children’s Hospital for the project.
Tristian was selected to test the product by the hospital’s staff, who watched with the Parishers as he opened the box and rifled through the toys. Then he found a container of slime and a smile spread across his face. He promptly dumped out the slime to play with it, and the Parishers knew they were on the right track.
“That child’s reaction, it changed everything,” Gary said.
Since its founding almost two years ago, Cheeriodicals has partnered with businesses to give hundreds of Cheeriodicals gift boxes to hospitalized children across the country.
The development of the charitable arm of their business has been the fulfillment of a dream for the Parishers.
A box of ‘me time’
The Parishers founded Cheeriodicals in Mt Laurel in early 2011. The idea was hatched about three years ago when Mary Martha’s uncle was hospitalized.
“We just wanted to send him some fishing magazines, and it turned out no one in the country has that business model,” she said.
Mary Martha worked as a corporate attorney and Gary in biotech sales, but they were captivated by the idea of a company that specialized in gift boxes.
“The whole idea is a gift of ‘me time,’” Mary Martha said.
Originally, the product was to be called “Zines,” and the magazines were to be packed in galvanized buckets. They hired Wendy and Travis Tatum, Birmingham-based marketing gurus, to brand the company. The Tatums came up with the Cheeriodicals name and the bright green boxes.
“We just fell in love with it,” Mary Martha said.
The Parishers saw Cheeriodicals, which were originally restricted to magazines and snacks, as ideal gifts for holidays, hospital stays or corporate clients. Each Cheeridiocal, which cost between $39.99-$59.99, includes four magazines and a selection of salty, sweet or mixed snacks. The magazine categories include business, photography, parenting, style, politics, wine, fashion and many others.
“The magazines are based on the gift recipient’s interest,” Mary Martha said. “We keep so many magazines in stock we’re pretty much able to satisfy everyone’s interests no matter what they are.”
The Parishers knew they wanted a charitable component to Cheeriodicals when they founded the company.
“The charitable side was always there, but we didn’t know how it was going to develop,” Mary Martha said.
For their first philanthropic project, they turned to Scott and Traci Griffin, who own The Red Shamrock in Mt Laurel and whose son, Gabe, was diagnosed with a terminal disease in 2008.
Mary Martha met the family before they founded Cheeriodicals, and she knew she wanted to find a way to help them. The Parishers chose the Griffins as their first “charitable giveback.” They sent the family on an overnight trip to Atlanta, where they also visited the aquarium.
For Cheeriodicals’ next giveback, the Parishers donated money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation because they had trouble selecting a single family to benefit.
The “Cheeriodicals Day” idea was formed in May 2012 when Gary met with Adam Rhoades, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual of Alabama. The Parishers had already noticed their Cheeriodicals were popular gifts for hospitalized children.
Gary and Rhoades discussed the idea of having a team-building event where Northwesetern Mutual employees create the Cheeriodicals for the patients. However, Gary was concerned about the children who couldn’t afford the gift box.
“(Adam) said, ‘Why don’t we just do a gift for every single child in the hospital,’” Gary recalled.
In March 2012, only three weeks after they met, that’s exactly what they did. Northwestern Mutual employees packed each box with toys, games and stuffed animals, and a group of employees also helped deliver the Cheeriodicals to the hospital.
Since then, “Cheeriodicals Days” have gained popularity.
We never really anticipated the team building or the Children’s Hospital events to be so huge,” Mary Martha said. “The social responsibility need in the corporate world is really big. People just jump at the option.”
RealtySouth hosted a Cheeriodicals Day for families at the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham in November 2012. Other Cheeriodicals Days have been held in conjunction with hospitals in New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville and St. Louis.
The Parishers found another partner, and now friend, through Cheeriodicals Days.
They met Sean Palmer, owner of the local moving company MoveDaddy, at a networking event. They turned to him when they needed assistance transporting the Cheeriodicals for the Northwestern Mutual Cheeriodicals Day.
He agreed and refused to be compensated for the work. Since then, Palmer and his MoveDaddy employees have participated in every Cheeriodicals Day. They load up the boxes, drive them to their destination and help unload and even deliver the gift boxes to the children.
With the second anniversary of their company approaching in May, the Parishers have taken some time to reflect on their company. Starting a business from scratch was a big step for both, but they’re proud of the work they’ve done.
“We wanted to be able to do something that had a legacy,” Gary said. “It was never about money or any of those things. It was about having something that was going to live beyond your life.”
For more information about Cheeriodicals, visit Cheeriodicals.com or call 1-855-584-2207.