A Conception Bay South couple who lost both of their children to the same rare form of brain cancer are still pouring love for their kids back into the community.
On Sunday, Louise and Bernie Mercer welcomed a capacity crowd to the fourth annual Riley Mercer Memorial Toy Drive at the Salvation Army Church in C.B.S.
It's been exactly four years since the family lost Riley at the age of 15, and 15 years since his sister Alex died at the age of nine.
"This event for us basically keeps Alex and Riley's memory alive here in C.B.S., and it's a night that we come out to honour these two kids and to pay it forward to the kids in need that are in our community," said Bernie Mercer.
Many of the family's friends were in the crowd at the service, and it seemed everyone in the church came bearing a gift for children in need.
The couple hosts the Ride for Riley each summer, has worked to install a memorial garden for both children at Topsail Beach, and each December rallies the troops to organize the toy drive in Riley's name.
"It's a real big part of the healing process for us," said Louise Mercer.
"I think because our story is maybe a little bit unique, because we lost both of our kids … I think our story has touched a lot of people."
Friends remember Alex and Riley
At the service, many kids too young to have been around when Riley and Alex were sick bopped in their chairs to the sound of live Christmas music.
And friends of Alex and Riley, now adults themselves, shared memories from their time growing up together.
Stephanie Whittle, one of Riley's best friends, helped organize the toy drive and co-ordinate donations from schools in C.B.S., Paradise and Mount Pearl.
She said she'll never be able to forget his sense of humour and optimism.
"He was such an amazing guy. He was so kind to everyone, and this is the least we can do to keep his memory alive as well as his sister's memory," said Whittle.
Sarah Humphries was Alex's best friend, and while she was only a little girl when she knew Alex, her memories have stayed strong.
"I remember going to Alex's house and dressing up and playing games and making our own shows, and we'd always go to school dances together," she said. "I would just never be able to forget times like that."
Won't be forgotten
All these years later, it doesn't get easier for Louise and Bernie to go on without their children.
But thinking about Alex and Riley, and what they'd make of events like Sunday's toy drive, helps the family get by.
"I know Riley is up there beaming with pride and thinks this is the coolest thing that everyone is coming out to remember him, said Louise Mercer.
So the Mercers keep going, and continue to honour the memory of their children, to ensure Alex and Riley will never be forgotten.
"Riley asked me when he was a little boy, when he was just about six years old — because his sister was gone at that time — Riley said back then, 'When I die will you name something after me?'
"So I knew the second that I lost him that I had to do something great for Riley, and this turned out to be phenomenal. "