This holiday season, the Campus Police Department (CPD) participated in the Marsh Annual Holiday Toy Drive to collect toys for children at Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH). The drive ended on Dec. 15, and anyone can donate by bringing new toys to the lobby of the CPD, where there is a large decorated collection bin.
The bin that the CPD received to collect toys overflowed with donations from the community. Five extra cardboard boxes and bags filled the lobby with Legos, Hot Wheels, books and board games. A stuffed unicorn sat upon fuzzy blankets with a rainbow skateboard next to building blocks for toddlers, all waiting to be given to children at SMH.
The CPD began participation in the Holiday Toy Drive in 2020, when Captain Kelley Masten volunteered to host a donation bin. Other participating sponsors include Jump Dance Company, Venice Elementary School and the Sarasota Tax Collector’s Office, among others.
“We decided to sponsor the toy drive to give back to our community, the Sarasota-Manatee community we live and serve in,” Masten told the Catalyst. “The impact the toy drive has made on the children at SMH is significant. The children are able to feel the support they have from their community rallying behind them.”
Toys collected in the drive go to the Pediatric Unit at SMH, a 32-bed wing housing many children who are unable to go home over the holidays. The drive, which is currently in its 14th year, is organized by the Marsh family, whose daughter spent more than two years in the hospital due to hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare disease.
According to a statement by the Marsh family on the site HLH.org: “Being able to provide toys helps decrease their stress and helps create smiles, being able to color while you are in the hospital can make a patient’s day from being bored and in pain, to feeling relaxed and having fun. … Having a brand new toy or a brand new craft kit can give these children something to do, and it also serves as a perfect distraction for children during painful procedures, along with helping families feel more comfortable that their children are still able to be themselves even in the hospital. All these reasons are what propelled us to launch our own annual toy drive as a way to ‘Pay it Forward’ for all that was done for our daughter.”
Owner of Jump Dance Company Kerry Mynatt, who has been donating with the Marsh family since the Holiday Toy Drive began, told the Catalyst that she has seen directly the positive impact the toys have on the children.
“We got involved in it because Hannah was a student that took dance with me, and we kept doing it because of her. … I’ve stayed in contact with her mom, and then we got involved with the toy drive,” Mynatt said.
Mynatt told the Catalyst that she has firsthand experience with how the toys are used to help children after a procedure because of the hospitalization of her son, who had hot coffee spilled on him at a dance convention.
“My son got burnt real bad, and they gave him toys every time he got poked, like a little race car. … I know the impact it had on my son. With Hannah it was the same way, she was only five or six.”
Mynatt said that Jump Dance Company currently has one full box of toys, and is beginning work on filling a second.
In a statement requesting gifts, the hospital explains how giving positively impacts the children who are unable to go home to their families: “Hospitalized children need toys and games because play is a child’s work. In a hospital where children are separated from most of what is familiar, play and activities become valuable and safe outlets for feelings.”
The Marsh family’s statement indicates that they are always looking for new business partners to help collect toys for the Pediatric Unit. To participate as a business or as an individual, reach out on the Annual Toy Drive Facebook Page.