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Toy Drive focuses on children PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brenda Johnson Brandt   
Giving back to a community that has shown such strong support defines the purpose of My Little Angel Toy Drive, currently under way in Holyoke.

Seven families who have lost children from as recently as this past August to as long ago as four decades are paying tribute to the memory of their deceased children. But more importantly, they’re taking the opportunity to give back to a community which supported them so strongly in their times of tragic loss.

“We found out how strong this community is through the fabulous support shown us,” said Karin Kramer.

She vividly recalls how the community embraced their family with love 25 years ago when their 2-year-old son fought Stage 4 neuroblastoma, underwent a bone marrow transplant with his 5-year-old sister Kandi as the donor and ultimately lost his battle with cancer.

Twenty-five years later, Kramer said the Toy Drive has given her family a chance to remember all the good things people did for them and for little Todd. “It gives us a chance to give as we were given to.”

This community effort is the brainchild of Josie and Brett Murray, who lost their son Ethan at birth 10 months ago, on Jan. 29. Recognizing others have experienced the same grief of losing a child, they issued an open invitation to unite in honoring children whose lives they can enhance with a loving touch at Christmastime.

Working through Phillips County Dept. of Social Services, in coordination with Zion Lutheran Church, My Little Angel Toy Drive looks to raise funds for Christmas gifts for close to 150 children, as of the recent count.

“I know toys are a material thing,” said Kramer, “but they’re important to kids.” She said this toy drive emphasizes how very valuable children are. The gift of toys speaks to children, sending the message that this community genuinely cares about them.

“It offers hope, and we need that so much,” added Paula Strode, who lost her 17-year-old son Justin just one year ago. “People don’t realize the needs of families with children. We really need to reach out,” added Strode.

“It’s so neat to see something practical coming from our losses,” said Lauri Gibbs, whose 5-week-old son Lonnie died suddenly of Crib Death 39 years ago.

Gibbs added when she meets someone who lost a child, there’s an immediate rapport. It’s nice to use that common bond to make a difference for children in the community.

“It’s amazing how the smallest effort turns into a huge thing when it’s the right thing,” said Gibbs, praising Josie Murray for pulling families together for a common purpose.

“I admire Josie so much for her emotional strength as she channels her energy into the Toy Drive so soon after the loss of her own little one,” added Gibbs.

Kramer agreed, saying, “I really appreciate Josie following through on her good ideas. I’m thankful she’s gotten us kicked into gear!”

“It’s an honor to have been asked to be part of this,” said Pam Struckmeyer, whose 16-month-old son Westyn drowned three summers ago.

She cited the value of coming together as families who have lost children, to help other children.

Gail Hielscher, whose son Brett Aaron was stillborn 21 years ago, added it makes her feel good to help others.

Toy Drive offers opportunity for entire community

Not only is this a community effort for families who have suffered the loss of a child, it’s a chance for anyone who wants to make a difference in children’s lives in Holyoke.

Shannon Schlachter, whose 2 1/2-year-old daughter Marie died in late August from Leigh’s Disease, emphasized all toys will go to Holyoke children. This is truly a local effort.

Murray welcomes any and all to take part in the drive in whatever way works for them.

Donations can be made in change jars located in Holyoke businesses, or tickets can be purchased for A Night Full of Memories Raffle Basket, with proceeds to go toward the toy drive. Tickets are available at the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce office, as well as First Pioneer National Bank.

These tickets will be sold at the Dec. 5, 11, 18 and 19 home basketball games, and ticket sellers at those games are needed if anyone would like to join the project that way.

For those who would like to donate new toys, a drop box is set up in First Pioneer National Bank lobby.

Because Zion Lutheran Church has assisted the Dept. of Social Services with the Christmas food drive and adopt-a-family program, they’ve been great to work with in the My Little Angel Toy Drive, noted Schlachter.

With more families on the list than ever before, it’s especially significant to have a sizable program in place to make a difference for these fellow community members.

Centennial 4-H Club has offered to help wrap the presents, and Murray commended the Chamber of Commerce, Holyoke School District, Zion Lutheran Church, Jody Fiscus at The Oak Tree and all volunteers for their giving spirits. “I’ve just been amazed at the level of response,” said Murray, encouraged because, “It’s all about the children.”

Those interested in stepping on board with any aspect of the Toy Drive should contact Murray at 970-595-0895 for further information.

Seven angel families share their stories inside this edition of The Holyoke Enterprise.