Staehely toy drive continues to make spirits bright
December 28, 2012 4:42PM
Elves, the Cat in the Hat and Mrs. Claus delivered toys to hospitalized children for the Mark Staehely annual toy drive. One little girl was thrilled with Gina Staehely’s elf shoes (second from left). | submitted photo
Updated: February 1, 2013 6:06AM
A few weeks before Christmas hundreds upon hundreds of sick children at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet and the Lurie Children’s Hospital (formerly Children’s Memorial) in Chicago received Christmas gifts through the Mark Staehely annual toy drive, now in its 12th year.
Mark Staehely died of neuroblastoma in 2006 at the age of 18. Even while he valiantly fought cancer, he made it his lifelong dream and then his legacy to ensure that other sick children who spend their holiday in the hospital would have one bright spot in their lives.
The collecting of the toys and the people who donate them, the family and friends of Sue and Ray Staehely, who spend their time sorting and delivering, and the dream of a young man that lives even after his death, those are the stories beforehand.
But there are other stories about the children who receive the stuffed animals to hold during treatments and the toys to play with; the teenagers who get iTunes gift cards or games to keep them occupied when they are confined to a bed or a hospital room.
A little girl at Presence had been through a long and hard surgery before the toys were delivered to the hospital on Dec. 14. She was pretty down, said Mark’s aunt Gina Staehely, who goes as an elf.
But the crew arrived at the hospital with Mrs. Claus, The Cat in the Hat and elves decked out in green and red satin. They brought huge bags of toys, enough for every child in the pediatric ward and the emergency room.
The father said his daughter kept asking to see an elf; she also wanted to see the elf’s shoes.
Gina delivered the gifts decked out in her costume, complete with elf shoes. Whether it was the elf, the red and white shoes with curled up toes, the toys or all of the above, the little girl was able to smile.
“Just to see her reaction and knowing it makes her feel better, it makes you feel better,” said Gina. “You hope it carries on a little longer than when you walk out the door.”
It’s the smiles and looks of joy on the children’s faces that make the months of work beforehand worthwhile. It’s also about the parents, Gina said, because if they can see their sick child smiling it brightens their lives as well.
“People don’t realize what a $10 toy will do for a family,” said Gina. “Whether it’s from our foundation, Toys for Tots or another organization, one little toy truly goes a long way.”
Mark’s mom, Sue Staehely, had many stories of joy to share from this year’s toy drive.
A 2-year-old boy was asleep so the crew left his bag of gifts with his dad, who stood vigil by the hospital bed.
When they passed by the same room later on, the father stopped them to say “God bless you.” He had just heard the story of Mark’s toy drive and couldn’t believe they were still doing it 12 years later.
When the elves and Mrs. Claus were finishing up their toy distribution, they saw the same father with his son going down the hallway and the little boy was dragging his bag of toys behind.
A 4-year-old girl, dressed in her hospital gown and pig tails, dug through her bag of toys exclaiming “wow,” louder and louder with each gift she pulled from the tissue paper.
Her family then encouraged her to sing for the crew.
“She busted out into ‘Jingle Bells,’” said Sue. “She sang every single word. She sang like she was doing a concert at Carnegie Hall.”
Sue, as Mrs. Claus, handed a stuffed animal to a young lady in her 20s who was receiving ongoing treatment at Lurie Hospital. The young woman told Sue she had been in the hospital when Mark delivered gifts years ago and he, too, had given her a stuffed animal.
With the leftover toys, they were able to help area families in need at Morning Star Mission, the Spanish Community Center, the Pediatric Hospice Program and Forest Park Recreation Center.
There are so many stories of smiles and joy that the Mark Staehely toy drive brings to children and their families.
The Staehely family and friends behind the toy drive wish they could send out a personal thank you to every person who ever gave a toy or a donation. If you donated even one Barbie doll, one stuffed animal or one dollar, thank you, said Sue.
“I wish I could thank each and every person,” she said. “It’s such a blessing to these kids and these families.”
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