Thea Lenna went to her local secondhand store in Baltimore last month and happened upon a pastel-painted fish chair with a price tag of $740.
“I had never seen anything like it,” said Lenna, 34.
She snapped a photo of the curious chair and posted it on a popular Facebook group, called “Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared.”
Apart from showcasing the strange seat to a group of thrift-store enthusiasts, “I really didn’t think much of it,” Lenna said.
But when Emily DelFavero, 29, one of the group’s 2 million members, saw the post, she paused in shock.
“I had that exact chair tattooed on my leg two years ago,” she said.
DelFavero posted a photo of her tattoo in the group, adding that it is emblematic of her mother, who once collected pieces by MacKenzie-Childs — the studio that designed the chair.
The group went wild.
Her post was quickly flooded with comments asserting the chair was destined to belong to DelFavero, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y.
“People were begging me to make a GoFundMe and said they wanted to donate,” said DelFavero, who works as an auto mechanic. “I was thinking I would call the place and buy the chair myself; I wasn’t even looking for donations, but I realized within minutes that people really just wanted to be a part of this.”
Among those who pushed for a GoFundMe was Rosita Smith, 30.
“I started seeing people replying instantly saying Emily needs this chair,” Smith said. “No one deserves this chair as much as she does.”
The thrift store, Second Chance, agreed to lower the price from $740 to $600 when it heard the story.
In less than 24 hours, the fund, set up by DelFavero on Sept. 7, collected enough money to buy the chair. Then came the complicated part: transporting it from Baltimore to Syracuse — about 330 miles.
“I thought, ‘Why not make another Facebook group so that people can actually follow this story and see if we can get her the chair?’” Smith said.
She created a group called “From Baltimore to Emily D.,” which has amassed nearly 2,500 members from as far as Hawaii, Europe, and Australia — all focused on a common goal.
Members began volunteering to drive the chair from Baltimore to Syracuse, and “a small group of us got together separately to figure out the mapping and logistics,” Smith said.
They decided the trip would have seven legs, each about an hour long, though some drove farther from home to the designated meeting spots. Drivers arranged pickup locations to pass along the chair, which measures about 22 inches wide and 41 inches high.
Meantime, one member contacted the original designer of the chair, Victoria MacKenzie-Childs, who, alongside her husband, Richard, founded the company in 1983, though they are no longer involved in the business.
“I was touched to tears,” MacKenzie-Childs said. “I felt deeply grateful that the chair was a symbol of the story.”
DelFavero recalls regularly visiting the MacKenzie-Childs studio in Aurora, N.Y., as a child with her mom and as a young adult. About four years ago, while visiting the studio, she spotted a dollhouse version of the fish chair, fell in love with it, and eventually had it tattooed on her leg.
It’s “an embodiment of love and happy memories,” she said.
The chair has come to mean something to members of the Facebook group, too. When one member posted “What does this chair journey symbolize for you?” in the group, the responses poured in.
“A minute of hope for humans — a thread of untapped love for others — a sense of fun and adventure,” wrote one.
Others contributed similar sentiments, including Jacqueline Sergent, 37, of Pottstown, who drove the fourth leg of the journey.
“It’s such a weird, wholesome story at a time when everything is so bleak,” she said.
“We’re just a bunch of strangers on a mission to bring somebody joy.”
The chair arrived at its destination on Monday, delivered by Sarah Edwards, 36, who handled the final leg of the trip. She drove from her home in Binghamton, N.Y., to DelFavero in Syracuse, and along the way picked up custom-made fish doughnuts that a local bakery made for them, free of charge. Delivering the chair, she said, was one of the most exciting things she had ever done.
“There is nothing but happiness in this story,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t matter who you are — you just can’t help but smile that this many people just wanted to make one person happy. And we did. On to the next mission.”
The 13-member logistics team — self-designated as the “Fellowship of the Fish Chair” — has scheduled monthly Zoom calls and is planning a get-together when pandemic conditions allow.
“When I look at the chair, I will think of every single one of these people,” DelFavero said.
Beyond finally having her very own freckled fish chair, DelFavero said she’s most touched by how the experience has brought together thousands of strangers.
“The chair has always represented love,” she said. “But now it’s not just for me. It’s for all of us.”