BREMERTON — Last year, Zachary Darner, 8, and a friend collected 259 toys — more than five times their goal — to donate to children in hospitals over the holiday season.
This year, Zachary is at it again, with a slightly bigger goal: He plans to collect at least 1,000 toys to donate to children stuck over the holidays in Harrison Medical Center, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“I’m doing this because I feel kids should be safe and happy in the hospital,” Zachary said.
This all started when Zachary’s brother, Noah, had to take three trips to the emergency room — once to Harrison Medical Center, and twice to Mary Bridge.
“It made me feel horrible and scared because my brother was in the hospital,” Zachary said.
Year one was a learning experience for Zachary as well as his mother, Beth Friedman-Darner, who’s helping Zachary coordinate their toy drive, which they’re calling Kidzz Helping Kidzz.
In 2016, they began their efforts in November. This year, they started much sooner. In fact, Zachary started his efforts not long after the school year ended, calling and making an appointment with Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent.
Friedman-Darner said Lent advised Zachary to speak to local Rotary clubs, and he did. Over the summer, he gave a presentation to the East Bremerton Rotary, who donated $500 to the project; the Poulsbo Rotary, who donated $500; and the Kingston Rotary, who donated $1,000.
He also teamed up with Caring Clowns International, a nonprofit organization that raises funds “to help significantly improve the lives of poor children worldwide,” according to www.caringclownsinternational.org.
“I met them outside the Haselwood YMCA in Silverdale,” Friedman-Darner said. “They were sponsoring an event there, and I just happened to be talking to them about their organization.
“I knew from last year that in order to really try to meet Zack’s goal of 1,000 toys, we were going to have to think about a connection to a nonprofit entity. Most applications for grants, you have to be a nonprofit organization. We talked to them a bit about the project, they met with their board and they decided they wanted to support our project.”
Once Caring Clowns adopted the Kidzz Helping Kidzz project, and gave $1,000 as well, they helped Zachary and his mom by applying for grants that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to without a nonprofit title.
“I feel good,” Zachary said about the partnership. “Now we’ll be able to raise more toys than last year.”
They’ve also grown within Kitsap County as well. Last year, they had four toy drop-off locations throughout Bremerton. Now, they have 25 drop-off locations throughout all of Kitsap County. And Friedman-Darner said the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office called her to ask if they, too, could help by collecting toys in their office.
“I am thrilled,” Friedman-Darner said about her son’s project. “Zachary is such a caring child. He is so compassionate. He’s so focused on helping others. This year, he wanted to do the project again, contribute to more children. We are here simply to support Zachary and to support his goal.
“And this is all around his love for his little brother who … had to go to the hospital three times. Zach got to see what that was like to be in a hospital. He found it very scary. At that point, he decided he wanted to give back to children.”
Zachary said, “I learned that all kids need equal things. I don’t mean like the same toy. They all need the same thing. They’re at the hospital. They need to feel happy at the hospital, and feel that they are loved at the hospital.
“It makes me happy giving toys to other children.”
Zachary is collecting toys appropriate for ages 2-16, including new, unused books and new toys and stuffed animals with the tags still attached. Donations are being accepted through Dec. 18 at 25 locations throughout Kitsap. They began collecting Nov. 1 and have already received 156 toys.
— Michelle Beahm is online editor for the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.