WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Marcell Miranda loved to cook.
Her specialties included lasagna and flan, and if you were a family member or friend — or even a friend-of-a-friend — you never went hungry.
“She had an open-door policy,” said her brother Radhy Miranda, 25. “If someone heard she was cooking and wanted to come over, she would say, ‘OK, I’ll just make more.’”
Now, Miranda’s community has had the chance to give something back to her.
Miranda, 27, died on Sunday due to complications from sickle cell anemia, after battling the genetic disorder her entire life.
To help pay for the funeral, family, friends and even strangers have donated more than $13,000 through an online fundraising campaign in the three days since it went up.
After years of paying for expensive medical treatments, Miranda’s family was not sure how they would be able to afford a proper funeral and burial, which can easily cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000, local funeral directors said.
Miranda's brother, Radhy, decided to create a funeral fund for his sister, posting a request on the fundraising website GoFundMe Monday. After talking to a funeral director about the expenses, he set the goal at $12,000.
Within just 36 hours, he had met that goal.
As of Friday morning, Marcell’s Funeral Fund stood at $13,680, thanks to donations from 233 people.
“I will always carry you in my heart,” wrote one person who donated. “You were always an attentive friend and went above and beyond for everyone. You will be truly missed.”
Marcell moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic with her mother, Yrene Nivar, when she was 7 years old so that she could receive the regular blood transfusions that would prolong her life.
Radhy joined his mother and sister in Washington Heights two years later, and the three formed a tight bond. Nivar worked two jobs to help cover her daughter’s pricey medical treatments, and that’s when Marcell developed her love for cooking.
“Once she was 12 or 13, Marcell really became the main cook in our family,” Radhy said. “She took it very seriously.”
That nurturing spirit shone through in other areas of Marcell's life, friends said.
“She was like the older sister to me that I didn’t have.” said Irwin Ramirez, a friend of Miranda’s since junior high school. “When I was down, she used to always tell me, 'You’re good. Keep doing what you do.' [She] always was a motivator, and I believe that goes with everyone that she was around.”
Marcell hoped to someday work in the health or science fields, and in high school she dreamed of being a forensic scientist. As she got older, she spoke more often about becoming a nurse and taking care of patients. However, Marcell's illness made it difficult for her to finish school or hold down a regular job, her brother said. It wasn’t uncommon for her to go into the hospital for a week or two at a time to deal with a health crisis related to her sickle cell anemia.
But Marcell was able to fulfill one lifelong dream: becoming a mother. When she was 20 years old, she gave birth to her son, Braylen, who quickly became the center of her world, her brother said.
“She was a very good mother,” said Radhy, who will now care for Braylen along with his girlfriend. “She was always on top of everything, which wasn’t easy because of her health issues. Braylen was the world.”
After managing her sickle cell for more than two decades, Marcell's health took a turn for the worse a few months ago. She developed a painful bone condition, known as avascular necrosis, in her hips and was preparing to have hip replacement surgery in the fall.
On Aug. 9, Marcell was admitted to the hospital due to a sickle cell crisis and because she was in severe pain. Her family believed this was simply another slump from which she would rebound.
Early in the morning on Aug. 17, Marcell's mother noticed that she had become unresponsive, and doctors soon discovered she had a bleed in her brain. They performed emergency surgery and were able to stop the bleeding, but she nonetheless died several hours later.
Supporters' grief quickly turned into generosity, which floored her brother.
“I am so thankful and appreciative of everyone,” he said. “Even people who donated $5. What that tells me is you don’t really have the money, but you donated anyway. My family and I are eternally grateful.”
At least one local business, Fort Washington Florist, has also chipped in and is doing all of the flowers for the service at cost.
But the best part of the outpouring has been hearing about the ways his sister touched people’s lives.
“A lot of people really cared about her. I didn’t even know the extent of it until this happened,” Radhy said. “People have come up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry. Your sister was always there for me.’”