For families of seriously ill children, teens and babies, this is a difficult time of year. Television advertisements blast happy home-for-the-holidays messages, while Christmas songs on the radio extol the joys of family all being together.
With a child in the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, however, families have enough to worry about without having to think about gift-buying for the holidays.
Two fifth graders from Warren Community School wanted to ease the burdens of parents and bring some joy to their children this season. “
As part of ‘WCS Gives Back’ a program at our school which emphasizes gratitude during November and December, we really work hard to encourage our students to display this character trait,” said Assistant Principal Jessica Berry. “One of our students, Jennika Shuman, inspired her class to start a food pantry drive in November. That was so successful, her buddy Summer Staples came to me afterward to ask if we could organize a toy drive for the children who have to stay in the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital this Christmas.”
Berry knew that Vicki Murray, owner of Laugh Loud Smile Big, a cupcake and custom goods store in Rockport, often donated cupcakes and gifts to BBCH and elected to pair up with Murray as the delivery vehicle for the toy drive.
A Toyota sleigh steers from Lincolnville to Portland every December
Vicki Eugley, of Lincolnville, quietly turns her Toyota Highlander into a sleigh every year and collects donations of presents and toys for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.
Like Murray, she does it with little fanfare. With a full car, she drove the gifts to Portland on Sunday, December 8.
She puts out the call in November, and before long, friends are dropping off bags and boxes of toys, clothes and art supplies with her. They love to contribute to the effort for many different reasons, and look forward to the annual tradition.
“I’ve been doing this for about three or four years,” Eugley said. “We get a lot of donations from area friends and neighbors and just bring them down.”
Presents from Vicki Eugley’s car all set up at BBCH.
After putting out the message to the community, Warren Community School was able to collect three full boxes, more than 40 gifts, thanks to parents, teachers and other members of the community. Thanks to Murray’s coordination with BBCH and a special Christmas Wish List, items donated ranged from onesies for infants to gift cards for teenagers.
Murray took the gifts down on Friday, December 13.
“As Summer helped load the items into the car, she kept saying, ‘Wow there are so many toys here!’ said Berry. “She was so proud of what she had accomplished. We want our students to be participants in their community, and to learn how to support and give back to others.”
Murray had her own connections to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. Her daughter needed to stay there after she was born and again, briefly when she was 10.
“They gave her wonderful care,” she said. “When she got upset, they had this Magic Closet or what they call the ‘Oww-ie Box’ and it was filled with toys. They let her pick a toy and it would distract her and calm her enough to carry through a procedure.”
For the last seven years, Murray has taken gifts and cupcakes to children whenever the hospital has called her.
Murray has a permanent box out front in the store year round for anyone who wishes to donate a toy or a gift card to BBCH.
“Whenever we do our cupcake donations, we grab whatever is in the box out front and bring that down with us,” she said. “People donate craft supplies along with gifts. And we even get gift cards for the nurses. What they take home with them emotionally every night, we can’t imagine.”
During the holidays, people’s thought turn naturally to giving and the box out front of Laugh Loud Smile Big overfills with donations from people in the Midcoast. Murray said last year, her pick up truck was so full of donated gifts that they had to make two trips down to Portland. “
“When kids come in to the store with their parents, they see the gift box and wonder what it’s for,” said Murray. “I often hear parents teaching their children the importance of giving back, especially this time of year.”
Murray recognizes it’s a commitment to drive down to Portland multiple times a month with donations and cupcakes, but said, “it’s my passion.”
However, she insists that it the Midcoast community that allows her to be the bearer of good tidings.
“We have grandmothers come in and hand me $100 bills and tell me to make someone happy. We have parents come in with beautifully wrapped gifts for someone else’s children. We’re in tears in the kitchen half the time when people come in with gifts.”
So many of the gifts given to the children go home with them as reminders of what they survived and the comfort that it brought them. Donations to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital can be made beyond the Christmas season and dropped off at Laugh Loud Smile Big for birthdays, special occasions, and even just a reward for getting through a tough chemotherapy session. To help out visit Laugh Loud Smile Big’s Facebook page.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org