Huge plush teddy bears greet me as soon as I walk through the door. Puzzles line the shelves along with boxes of Lego and dress-up clothes. Every few inches another toy. Another game. Another child’s dream.
I finger a strand of colorful beads and imagine a little girl, whose hair has fallen out due to medical treatments, putting the necklace over her head with the brightest smile. The Battleship game my friends and I have fond memories of playing with as children – perhaps it will go to a paralyzed boy to play with when his classmates come to visit him at the hospital.
While walking through FAO Schwarz makes anyone’s heart beat a bit faster, walking among the toys carefully selected by director Rabbi Shloma Leib Abramowitz and coordinator Mrs. Baila Hecht of Toys for Hospitalized Children makes one’s heart beat with a powerful purpose. These toys will put smiles on the faces of so many children who presently have few reminders in their lives of what it means to be happy.
For so many youngsters, hospitals and rehabilitation centers all around the country have unfortunately become their reality. It is for these residents that such toys will bring some light and cheer.
Since its founding in 1954 as a project of National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education, Toys for Hospitalized Children has grown tremendously in its services and offerings. This year, during the holiday season extending from November through January, approximately 15,000 toys were distributed in the U.S. In addition to providing children in hospitals with toys, Toys for Hospitalized Children (THC) has expanded to cater to seniors, individuals living in shelters, all aged people with autism and special needs, infants and their destitute families, and others.
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It’s holiday season when a group of girls arrives at the pediatric wing of Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. Arms laden with boxes of toys, the girls’ excitement is infectious.
In the main waiting room, Mrs. Hecht goes down the list of names with the girls and begins handing toys to them with personalized instructions. “This teddy bear is for 4-year-old Rachel in the corner room. You can give her this necklace too – the beads are large enough that she won’t hurt herself.
“Here, you will visit Bobby – wear this mask because his room must be germ-free – and give him this remote-operated helicopter. He will like it because his father is a pilot, and since he is bed-bound he can watch it soar around the room.
“And, give these to Stacy, please, in the second room down there on the left. She will love the princess stickers and dress-up gloves because she’s a girlie-girl, and since she has acute asthma this is better for her than the stuffed animals.”
Standing off to the side in the waiting room, sipping from a juice box, is a 10-year-old boy whose brother is sitting in a wheelchair before a television set, an IV bag hanging by his side. The big brother eyes the group with widening eyes – he’s never seen anything happy when visiting his sick brother here before. Suddenly spotting him, one of the students, at Mrs. Hecht’s encouragement, hands the boy a book he might enjoy. A smile quickly spreads across his face and he asks if he could have another that he can read to his brother. Then, armed with the two books, he wheels his wheelchair-bound brother to a quiet corner of the room and flips open one of the books to begin reading aloud.
Time and again Toys for Hospitalized Children brings sparkle and sunshine to the lives of people of all ages. While the allocation of goods is non-denominational, Mrs. Hecht ensures that those who need them the most receive them right away.
(In addition to distributing toys to hospitalized kids, THC makes discrete handouts to needy families. Items are offered to seniors as well. While distributing gifts and jelly doughnuts on Chanukah this year to residents at Belle Harbor Manor, an assisted living facility in New York, a volunteer named Esther says she felt immense joy from seeing the recipients’ happy faces and warm handshakes.)
Children in hospitals all over the country can benefit from these gifts. All toy donations are altruistic in nature, but due to various limitations associated with distributing goods to ill patients in these facilities, new toys are the only kind that can be used.