It started with a shopping list.
On Oct. 4, on a piece of lined notebook paper, 10-year-old Margaret Donaldson carefully wrote down a few things she wanted her father Tim to pick up at the store.
“Cheerios, Apple Sauce, Pirates Bootie … Private Concert from Justin Bieber, Jack!”
She underlined her brother’s name, the last item on the list, nine times.
But bringing Jack home from the store was even more impossible than arranging a private concert with teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
Jack Donaldson, 12, died on Sept. 8 when while playing with friends in a neighbor's backyard near his home on Marcliff Court in Vienna. In a cruel act of nature, Tim and Anna Donaldson In a split second, Margaret Donaldson - who had been stomping around in the rain with Jack just minutes earlier - lost her big brother and her "best friend."
"This grief is not going anywhere. This grief is always going to be with us," said Liz Whiston-Dean, Anna Donaldson's sister. "We know that Margaret, more than anything, wishes she had Jack back. We can’t give her that, but we thought, 'Let’s look at the other things on her list.'"
Suddenly, a meeting with Justin Bieber seemed like something worth working for.
"We can't take the sadness away, but we can give her a reason to dance," Whiston-Dean said. "It’s so sweet and kind and joyful in the midst of something that is so opposite."
On Oct. 13, Whiston-Dean took her mission online, creating the Twitter handle "@JBLiftMargaret" to spread Margaret's story and connect with people across the country who could help.
Unbeknownst to Margaret, hundreds of friends, family members and complete strangers are now rallying around her in an effort to connect the grieving girl with the pop star. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 530 Twitter users, including Justin Bieber, himself, are following the Twitter account. More than 1,000 Facebook fans have "liked" the "Help Margaret Meet Justin Bieber" Facebook page.
Bieber, currently on a worldwide tour, is scheduled to make U.S. appearances on "The Today Show" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in November. Kate Hood, a local blogger, is spearheading efforts to get Margaret to meet him at one of those tapings.
"At 10 years old, her only experience with big things in the world is a loss, and a tragic one. It can set you up with a pretty bleak perspective of what life has to offer," Hood said. "It doesn’t change the past, but maybe it will alter her perspective of the future a little bit."
Anna Donaldson, who has written poignantly about her son's death on her blog "An Inch of Gray," thanked her followers for the outpouring of support for her daughter. "You have emailed Ellen, you have called in favors to your brother's ex-girlfriend's college roommate's mom. You have tweeted. No stone is left unturned! You have pulled together to put a smile on Margaret's face, and I have to believe that something great will come of it."
Still, there's no guarantee. Hood acknowledged Bieber is a virtually "untouchable" celebrity and gets dozens of requests to meet his fans every day.
But perhaps more important than actually arranging the meeting, Hood said, is this campaign has been a way for everyone to channel their grief.
"More than anything, it’s been a testament to community online," said Hood, who herself met Donaldson through the local blogging community. "At the end of the day, it’s a way for people to show support to someone who has suffered something that they fear everyday of their lives. This is what they can do and that’s really heartwarming for the family."
Manassas resident Heather Morris, who has also pushed the digital campaign to help Margaret meet Bieber, is hopeful he will notice their efforts.
"He’s the kind of person who does that for his fans. He’s so grateful to his fans," said Harris, who graduated from Vienna's Marshall High School with Donaldson. "Nothing is ever going to make the family whole again. Anna is an amazing mother. In this situation, too, all she’s thinking about is Margaret. The immeasurable pain she’s going through - she’s continually being that strong mother she is. And everyone else around her is trying to help. I think it’s an amazing thing."