Tucked away in a vacant Springfield High School classroom, students spent a teachers’ work day Friday carrying toys — overflowing from their arms — as they sorted and organized them against a wall.
The teens made sure the teddy bears were color coordinated, the Barbie dolls were grouped together, and the coloring books were neatly stacked as they prepared to deliver toys to ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital.
As the morning wore on, the piles of toys kept growing and growing.
“This is a perfect way to brighten the lives of the children that are hospitalized,” said Joshua Fox, a Springfield junior.
For Raymond Burns, a high school senior, helping with this toy drive is personal.
“I was really excited when I found out it would be benefiting ProMedica,” young Burns said. “My sister has cystic fibrosis and they have helped her so much over the years.
“This drive was not only a way for me to give back to my community but for me to give back to an organization that helped my sister and my family get to where we are now,” he said.
Three years ago, Springfield High teacher McKenna Reitz challenged her Advanced Placement Psychology students to be something bigger than themselves.
Her students gladly accepted her challenge. Their goal was simple: touch the hearts of as many children as possible.
“I brought up the idea to my students and they loved it and just ran with it," she said. “There are so many toy drives that go on throughout northwest Ohio, but what we’re forgetting about are the children that are in the hospital.”
From left: Raymond Burns, AP psych teacher and Students in Action co-advisor McKenna Reitz, Abbie Gulch, Alex Chang and Josh Fox collect toys for the holiday season at Springfield High School.
So Mrs. Reitz challenged her students to see how many toys they could collect to donate to Toledo Children’s. In the first year they donated 1,500 toys.
That was three years ago.
Now, with the assistance of Leadership Toledo, the drive has expanded across the region with other high schools and area business collecting toys to assist Springfield.
The University of Toledo Athletics and Buckeye Broadband has also joined the effort by advertising and taking up collections for the drive. This year they expect to donate more than 5,000 toys to the children’s hospital.
Kristina White, the Springfield district’s spokesman and director of community impact for Leadership Toledo, said she has seen how this project has transformed the students involved.
“It stopped being a service project, it stopped being an idea and became a passion for the students to carry forward,” she said.”We have started caring for these children and take responsibility for making a change.”
The toy drive has a special place in Mrs. Reitz’s heart. One month after Springfield’s first toy drive, her then 8-month-old daughter was admitted to the children’s hospital, where the girl received a ballerina teddy bear from the same toy drive her mom initiated.
“It was a very special moment for me that I got to see it full circle and get to actually experience the impact and the magnitude that that one stuffed animal had on her,” Mrs. Reitz said.
For the children admitted to the hospital, a toy promises a warm welcome.
On the children’s hospital’s fifth floor is a special place where the toys are stored: the “treasure box room.”
Three years after the first toy drive, there are now enough toys for every child.
A Toy Can Make A Difference
At Toledo Children’s a toy isn’t just a toy, an object to play with. It’s a ray of sunshine during a dark moment in a child’s life.
“These toys make a difference when our kids in the hospital need to feel as normal as possible,” said Kate Schwan, the hospital’s child-life clinical coordinator.
“There are two types of medicines, one for the body and one for the spirit, and medicine for the spirit for the children comes from playing,” she said. “It’s about feeling good about themselves and helping their recovery and reducing stress. It’s pretty powerful.”
When children are admitted they are given a toy for different reasons — if they are scared, having a bad day or it’s their birthday. A toy could help a child forget about the stress of being away from home.
Although the number of toys donated by Springfield has grown, Ms. White said it’s the acts of kindness that matter.
“It’s not the size of the toy, but the impact of the gesture,” she said.