URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — This story should make you smile this Christmas Eve. It starts with a boy with autism who befriends a woman working at the deli counter – and ends with her giving him a very special gift.
“We go to the deli, and he gets his garlic bologna,” said Julie Palermo. It may be a unique request, but it’s part of what brings her family to the Meijer deli counter once a week. It’s also how they met deli counter worker Catherine Peterson.
“Every time I see Paulie come in, my heart would just race,” said Peterson. Paulie has autism, and Palermo says Peterson is especially patient with him.
“Paulie struggles with communication and language, so for them to interact and engage Paulie, just means everything for me as a mom and him as an individual to be there, go to the store, and see someone that’s his friend,” Palermo explained.
During one of those conversations, Peterson asked Paulie what he wanted for Christmas.
“He said a red guitar, and I thought oh I don’t have a red one, but I do have one,” she explained.
In fact, she’s had it for seven years, hoping for someone to say they wanted to learn music.
“I was just waiting for one child to tell me that… and Paulie was the special one,” explained Peterson. So she brought it to work to give him.
“I put the guitar in his hand, and it made me feel like the world was just wonderful,” said Peterson.
“He just automatically began to strum and he sang that You’ve Got a Friend in Me, and how the world is today… it just makes… you know that there’s kindness out there,” said Palermo.
That’s why Peterson says she believes it was fate that brought them together, even though it all started with a simple trip to the grocery store.
“It’s not just going about getting bologna, it’s about building that sense of community,” said Palermo.
Peterson used to play guitar herself, she also plays the keyboard, so you can see why it meant so much to her to give the guitar to a good home. Now Paulie is taking lessons to start strumming on his own.