Eight-year-old Kingsley Staple is a boy who knows his own mind, and when Connecticut State Trooper Gerard Joyal came to offer Kingsley a holiday gift, the young man was not going to settle for something that didn’t make the grade.
Kingsley was in a blue hospital johnny, waiting to go into the operating room for surgery, but he showed no sign of anxiety at all as he rejected toy after toy offered by Trooper Joyal. Finally, the trooper, digging deep into the toy bag, came up with a package of several dramatic-looking dinosaurs, and Kingsley’s face lit up.
“Yes!” he shouted, as he grabbed the box and began excitedly telling his parents and guests what each species was. The thought of surgery seemed very far away.
State Police Toy Drive Delivers
Trooper Joyal was one of dozens of fellow state troopers from Troop H in Hartford handing out presents to patients at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center on December 18. These troopers helped collect those toys and thousands of others from generous members of the public at Walmart locations in Manchester, East Windsor and Cromwell December 13-16, as part of the Annual Connecticut State Police Toy Drive. It was the 22nd year that the state troopers have collected toys for Connecticut Children’s patients through their “Stuff a Cruiser” Toy Drive. This year, they raised an amazing $21,067 in addition to uncounted numbers of stuffed animals, games, dolls, crafts and other toys that will be distributed to patients who arrive via Connecticut Children’s Emergency Department (ED) throughout the year. The money will help support the ED.
The achievement was celebrated at a press conference the morning of December 18, before the troopers and employees of Aetna Ambulance Service and the Ambulance Service of Manchester, who also participate in the toy collection, spread out to the emergency room, inpatient rooms, specialty departments and other areas of the Medical Center to hand out presents to delighted children.
“This toy drive is a long-standing tradition at Troop H, letting us connect with community members in a positive way,” said Lt. Daniel Loughman, commanding officer of Troop H. “It’s important to give back to the community in some way, and I can’t think of a better way than to give joy to the children who need it most. I was taken aback by the generosity of our community members; I saw people give the last dollar in their wallets.”
Two of the speakers at the press conference were Danielle O’Linn and her 15-year-old daughter, Jordan. They spoke about the difference a toy can make to a hospitalized child.
“On December 23, 2010, my 7-year-old twins, Jordan and Chase, were diagnosed with strep throat,” Danielle told the troopers, reporters and guests in attendance. “They spent Christmas lying on the couch watching their younger brother open and play with presents. By then, the coughing had started, and they complained of chest pain. The next day, Jordan was rushed to the Emergency Room because her fingers had turned blue. She was diagnosed with severe pneumonia. Later that evening, she was transferred via ambulance to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
“Upon arrival at Connecticut Children’s, we were surrounded by warmth, gentle smiles and excellent care,” Danielle said. “The staff seems to love every child that comes through the door. We were told that Jordan would be having surgery in the morning, but first several tests needed to be done to determine the exact type of surgery that was to be performed. Jordan would need X-rays that night
and an ultrasound in the morning. If you’ve ever had an X-ray before, you know that they are painless—unless it literally hurts to breathe. Imagine being asked to hold your breath to pose for your pictures.”
“I was so exhausted when I went in for X-rays,” Jordan said. “I was miserable, and they kept making me flip around and move, and it was quite painful. At the end, though, I was handed a stuffed animal in a big box. It was a bear, who I immediately named ‘X-Ray,’ and from that moment on, X-Ray was my constant companion. He has special powers that help you when you’re scared. And they certainly have helped me in the times we’ve been together. I remember waking up with X-Ray the morning of my surgery.”
Jordan’s experience with her beloved bear is repeated over and over in varying scenarios each day at Connecticut Children’s, thanks to the generosity of the troopers; the Walmart stores in Cromwell, East Hartford and Manchester; the staff at Aetna/ASM Ambulance and, of course, people throughout the area who donated the toys to be shared with patients.
Starbucks to the Rescue
But they aren’t the only ones making sure hospitalized children receive toys.
Fifty-nine Starbucks stores across Connecticut collected mountains of toys for Connecticut Children’s patients as well. The week before Christmas, patient families were able to select toys for their children at something called the Snowflake Shop without having to leave the hospital.
“At Starbucks, our mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time,” said Annie Meade, the district manager for Starbucks. “We live in the community, are an important part of the community, and we depend on Connecticut Children’s to care for our children just as our customers do. We are proud to help support the Medical Center and look forward to doing so in the future.”
Set up in the Medical Center’s UTC Family Resource Center, the Snowflake Shop resembled an actual toy store, where parents could peruse racks of stuffed animals, games, crafts, books, balls and dozens of other kinds of presents. There were wrapping stations, too, with volunteers helping to make each gift extra special.
The wrapping supplies were donated by employees at Pratt & Whitney and The Hartford, making the store even more of a community effort. Starbucks also donated hot drinks and pastries for the parents to enjoy each day, while the wrapping volunteers took care of their packages. The parents, many of whom were overwhelmed by the holidays and having a sick child in the hospital, were able to take a brief respite to relax and refuel before returning to their child’s bedside.
Parents were deeply touched by the generosity of the people and companies who donated the gifts. “This is a life saver!” said one parent. “I don’t know how we’d have Christmas without it.”
“I just lost my job yesterday,” said another. “I wasn’t sure I how I was going to do Christmas this year.”
“This is amazing,” said a third parent. “I don’t have anything for my kids. They just keep getting sick. Thank you so much.”
“We are so grateful for the generosity of our local community who donated toys and materials for the patients and families this holiday season,” said Lauren Smizer, Child Life Specialist who oversaw the Snowflake Shop. “These toys help provide comfort, support, and the opportunity for play for each child and family treated at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The toys are used beyond the holiday season to bring smiles to patients and families all year round. ”
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