By Kara Martinez Bachman
Photography by Kristal Cabello
Christian Andreacchio had a big heart.
“In life he was always willing to help someone out. His co-workers talked about Christian being willing to literally give them the shirt off his back,” says his mother, Rae.
After his death at the age of 21, his family created a way to continue Andreacchio's sense of generosity. The Meridian shop they began after his death, a not-for-profit charity dedicated in his honor, sells art and jewelry, pottery and paintings – all to provide needy school children with new shoes and athletes with scholarships.
The story of Christian’s death is one that is hard to hear. In 2014, the tugboat worker's body was discovered in his Meridian apartment, slumped over a bathtub with a gunshot wound. Before the investigation was sufficiently underway, police abruptly ruled the death a suicide, despite some unusual circumstances that to the Andreacchio family, indicated Christian may have been the victim of murder.
The story has garnered interest of national media and Rae Andreacchio continues her efforts to get the case re-opened for further investigation.
“As of today, we are waiting for the Attorney General's office to present Christian's case to a grand jury,” Andreacchio says. “We have been told this may occur in October.”
While she waits for its conclusion, Andreacchio has devoted herself to keeping Christian’s memory alive through helping children.
“When we give shoes away it is bittersweet,” Andreacchio says. “It is very touching seeing how excited the kids get when they get new shoes, but it also makes us think of the reason behind Magnolia Son being formed – to remember Christian and his big heart.”
Christian and his brother, Josh, grew up donating their outgrown clothes and Christmas presents they could not use to charity. “So, in the tradition that has been established over the years, I decided that one of the best ways to remember Christian was to continue his practice and act of generosity by purchasing name brand shoes and coats for the kids that I work with,” she says. But that isn't all.
Andreacchio says Magnolia Son has donated camp scholarships to local high school athletes for the past two years, providing Kemper County and Quitman high schools donations to cover the cost of their football teams' members to attend football camp at Mississippi State University.
“This past May, we awarded a donation to Quitman County High School so that most of their football team could attend camp,” she says.
Andreacchio says many of the teen beneficiaries will “never set foot on a college campus other than at this football camp. We hope this gives them motivation to want to attend college, even if they are not college bound athletes. We would like to further this outreach effort and offer more need-based scholarships to individual athletes in other sports who might not be able to afford summer camps.”
Magnolia Son also awarded a $5,000 college scholarship this year. It was the first time the charity had presented such an award. Andreacchio says it was decided based on an essay contest open to all Lauderdale County high school seniors, with the title: “How I would live my life large.”
“Kinley Elderidge from Lamar won the scholarship,” Andreacchio says. “She is currently attending Ole Miss.”
Parl Tarver had helped Rae Andreacchio set up the technology needed so that people could submit their essays without her knowing the author. The owner of Tarver Program Consultants Inc., he also had helped established the website in 2014 for Rae and her husband, Todd, who mans the store.
“When she started telling us what it was about we had one of those parent to parent moments,” Tarver said. “There was an instant connection there because of having been through a similar loss on our side. It clicked and we were honored to get the opportunity to get to do that for them.”
Tarver says he used photographs Christian took of rivers during his time working on tug boats as a backdrop for the website.
“It was his view on the world,” Tarver says. “I have a heart for her. I want her to get some closure.”
Magnolia Son is able to continue this work in Christian’s memory from public donations of money and goods, and by the purchases made at Magnolia Son.
Nestled in downtown Meridian on 23rd Avenue, the shop also offers candles, photography, prints and a range of home décor and gift items.
The shop expanded in July to a booth at The Mustard Seed in Oxford, and in August, expanded again to a booth at The Atrium in Meridian. “We feel these locations generate much more traffic then we will ever see at the shop, and they require no employees.”
The other locations provide a way of spreading name recognition for the charity, she says.
“When you lose a child you become almost frantic in your efforts to make sure your child is not forgotten,” Andreacchio says. “You worry you will forget.”
She says sometimes she panics when she can’t remember what it was like the last time she hugged him, or says she loved him. She says she worries she has forgotten the sound of his voice, or his laugh.
“I have woken up in the middle of the night and watched a video of Christian just so I could hear his voice to reassure myself I remembered what he sounded like,” Andreacchio says. “I know [my family] Todd, Josh and Alexa have experienced the same feelings.”
The stories she has written about Christian on magnoliason.com have conveyed who Christian was, have detailed the still-contested circumstances of his passing and have been therapeutic for her as a grieving mother.
Tarver says area residents are hoping for a resolution in the case.
“I think that's what everyone is hoping for,” he says. “I think everyone wants to get her to the finish line so she can get some peace.”
Want to go?
Magnolia son, at 713 23rd Ave.,
is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
For more information, visit magnoliason.com