Rainbow Connection toy drive aims to provide a happier holiday

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published December 9, 2015

 Organizers of The Rainbow Connection Toy Drive say donated gifts bring smiles to the faces of wish children and their families.

Organizers of The Rainbow Connection Toy Drive say donated gifts bring smiles to the faces of wish children and their families.

Photo provided by The Rainbow Connection

ROCHESTER — When people are looking for ways to spread some holiday cheer, The Rainbow Connection is hoping they will help make dreams come true for local children battling life-threatening illnesses.

The Rainbow Connection is collecting donations of new, unwrapped toys and games for kids of all ages 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 23 at its headquarters, 621 W. University St. People can also make donations online at www.rainbowconnection.org.

“It’s a great way for people to come in, meet us, see what we do, and leave a gift for the kids,” said Mary Grace McCarter, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We have a lot of people who will bring their children, and they have taken them out, and the kids have purchased something to put under the tree for Michigan kids who are really sick right now. It’s a nice entry into charitable giving. It’s a feel-good way to share the joy of giving.”

The goal of the holiday toy drive is to build the Rainbow Connection Toy Chest — which supplies small gifts to Wish Children and their families at the Rainbow Connection holiday party and throughout the year.

“Everyone can use a lot of holiday cheer this time of year, but especially these kiddos that have been going through so much,” Wish Director Ingrid Todt said. “We like to make sure they get extra holiday cheer — especially when we are helping them at our holiday party, or if we are meeting them at the hospital because they can’t get out for that Christmas season. We like to make sure we have plenty of things to make them feel very special. Something as simple as a board game to take their mind off their illness, or a baby doll to make them smile, is priceless. They really do make a difference in these kids’ lives.”

When a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, McCarter said, it has an immediate impact on every member of the family. The Rainbow Connection is very careful to include the brothers and sisters of each Wish Child, and his or her parents, in the annual holiday celebration and throughout the year as well by supplying a gift selected specifically for each of them.

“These kids aren’t sick just for that week. They are sick for a year, or two years, and it changes the lives of everyone in that family, including their brothers and sisters. It is hard for everybody, so brothers and sisters are remembered too, because the life-threatening illness of their sibling touches them every day too,” McCarter said.

The Rainbow Connection staff’s top gift suggestions for the holiday toy drive include family games for kids ages 8 and up; gift cards; basketballs, footballs and soccer balls; art and craft kits; purses; Sudoku books; movies; Lego sets of all sizes; team sportswear; travel and card games; iPod/iTunes cards; Nerf guns and toys; Bath & Body Works gift sets; and makeup, nail polish and beauty accessories.

The toys, Todt explained, bring big smiles to the many special children and families The Rainbow Connection serves.

“For some of the families coming to our holiday party, or us dropping off a package of gifts, it is all they have this year. They are struggling, they are trying to make ends meet, and keeping their electricity on obviously comes before purchasing the Easy Bake Oven that the child has been dreaming about. That’s where we come in. We are able to let them keep their lights on and purchase their gifts. We help them in any way possible,” Todt said. “It definitely makes a huge difference, and sometimes it’s the only Christmas they have.”

McCarter said The Rainbow Connection has between 50 and 60 more kids on its wish board than in years past.

“We have a lot of kids on the board this year — over 300 children — and it is very challenging. It is a challenge that we are happy to meet, but we are here long, long hours right now, and any help that anyone would give us with the toy drive would be very, very appreciative — as it always is, but even more so this year,” McCarter said.

For more information or to arrange a special drop-off, call (248) 601-9474 or visit rainbowconnection.org.