Consider me an elf.
Not because I’m on the short side, but for the volunteer work I recently did for PCH’s “The Give Back.” You see, Publishers Clearing House has a wonderful employee policy called “Volunteer Time Off,” where PCH team members can volunteer their time at recognized charity organizations. So, I decided to become an “elf” for a day, helping to distribute toys to sick and needy children through a local charity called the John Theissen Children’s Foundation (JTCF).
John Theissen started his charity for a very personal reason. When he was 17 years old, he was hospitalized for a brain tumor at a local children’s hospital. During his stay, he and his family befriended a seven-year old girl named Tasha. This little girl was in and out of the hospital throughout the year receiving different treatments for her illness. She received very little family support. She was dropped off and then picked up again when it was time to go home without having a visitor.
Tasha was very excited about a holiday party sponsored by the hospital staff and was expecting her family to attend. They unfortunately did not. John was still too ill but his family agreed to take her. When Santa asked her what she had wanted, Tasha replied, “ I would like a teddy bear for a friend upstairs.” John felt fortunate to be that friend. Tasha’s positive attitude and generous spirit inspired John, and when he got out of the hospital he wanted to help children just like Tasha.
In 1992, John held a toy drive during the holidays to benefit children in local hospitals. During the first toy drive, he collected over 800 hundred new toys in just two weeks and brought them to three different hospitals. Since 1992, the JTCF has collected over 550,000 new toys and has donated them to sick and underprivileged children in over 185 hospitals and child-care facilities across Long Island year- round.
My experience working for the day at the JTCF was physically exhausting, but extremely gratifying. Throughout the day, people would arrive at the organization’s headquarters, which was housed in a local storefront, dropping off and picking up toys. The bags of toys for distribution were literally stacked five feet high! When I wasn’t bagging toys for general distribution to local hospitals and social services, I was fulfilling special orders from the “Wish Room” located in the basement. The Wish Room was stocked with thousands of items for children of different ages and genders. There were baby toys, dolls of all kinds, craft kits, toy cars, construction kits, board games, books, sports equipment and even bicycles – all generously donated by people in the community. There were also shelves filled with beauty products for teenage girls.
Throughout the day, requests would come in, and I would fill bags with lots of toys from the Wish Room, and then lug the bags (which probably weighed 25 or 30 pounds) up the stairs. A volunteer would read the request out loud, for example, “I need toys for a 5 seven-year-old boys, 3 nine-year-old girls, and an 18-month-old baby.” Sometimes, the request was very specific, and I would have to find the perfect toy for an 11-year-old boy who liked cars or a visually impaired 5-year-old girl, for example.
At the end of the day, I had bruises on my knees from kneeling on the floor to sort toys and fill bags, and my back was sore from lifting heavy loads, but boy, was I happy to make children’s dreams come true!
P.S. Do you volunteer in your community? Comment below!
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Publishers Clearing House Gives Back For The Holidays