PEORIA — Recovering from heart transplant surgery may be a bit easier for Shay Weldy and her children, at least financially during the holidays.

Students, staff and parents at Richwoods High School, where Weldy’s son plays football, presented the family with an $8,500 check and other donations, including a catered Thanksgiving dinner, during a ceremony Friday at the school.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” said a tearful Weldy, surrounded by the football team and staff. “This takes a lot of the burden off.”

With help from their extended family, Richwoods senior Anthony Weldy took over traditional family duties during his mother’s two-and-a-half month stay at a Chicago hospital.

He maintained his grades in Richwood’s rigorous International Baccalaureate program, played lineman on the football team, took care of the household and his 7-year-old sister, Aiyonna.

“I am so proud of him,” Shay Weldy said. “I’ve been dealing with heart failure since 2008. To see him taking on new roles, helping ease his sister’s worry and sadness, is really something.”

The school began the fundraising drive after another parent, Shalonda Knox, suggested a school-wide project to adopt the family for the holidays. Students raised money while Knox and others solicited donations throughout the community.

Richwoods Principal Brett Elliott pointed out the connections between family, school and community.

Knox and Weldy had known each other since they were young, their sons had played football together since grade school. Weldy had also known Mike and Cathy Plunkett since she coached their daughter’s freshman girls’ basketball team about 12 years ago. Cathy Plunkett, Richwoods’ treasurer, helped with the fundraising project, while her husband Mike, a long-time Peoria-area coach and educator, coached Weldy on what to expect before and after heart surgery.

Plunkett had a heart transplant last December. Weldy’s was in August. Both had the same doctors at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Knowing what Mike went through, I know it can be rough,” Cathy Plunkett said.

Weldy said the financial gift will defray medical-related expenses such as the cost of renting a car for regular doctor’s visits in Chicago.

Knox is already making arrangements for the family’s Christmas dinner and continuing to collect donations for other needs. For more information, contact her at sknox@sbcglobal.net.

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or padams@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.