Zachary Darner, left, and Ryan Downey, right, are collecting donations of toys, stuffed animals and books to give to children who will be in the hospital over the holidays. Michelle Beahm / Kitsap News Group

Local boys collect toys to donate to children in hospitals over the holidays

CENTRAL KITSAP — Zachary Darner, 7, and Ryan Downey, 9, have one goal this holiday season: collecting 50 toys to donate to children who will be spending their holidays in the hospital.

“For them, the great Christmas gift would be meeting their goal of 50 toys to give to children in the hospital,” said Beth Friedman Darner, Zachary’s mother.

Zachary said his goal is to collect 500 toys this year, and 1,000 toys next year.

These two boys, from the Central Kitsap area, have taken it upon themselves to help bring joy, hope and celebration to children who are, unfortunately, unable to be at home for the holidays. They’re calling it “Kids Helping Kids.”

“We’ve raised our boys with looking at giving to others and how can we support others,” Friedman Darner said, of her and her friend, Nicole Downey, and their husbands. “They really wanted to give to kids. This has just been their dream, to help kids who can’t celebrate at home.”

Friedman Darner said this started over a year ago, when her youngest son, Noah, had to be taken to the emergency room with a fever of 105. She said “there were some medical issues that continued,” and they had to take Noah to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma for care. There were another two “very traumatic emergency room visits,” as well.

“Zach was with us the whole time,” Friedman Darner said. “He was very scared. We were all very scared. We didn’t know at certain points if Noah was going to live.”

Thankfully, Noah, now 1-and-a-half years old, has “outgrown” the issue, Friedman Darner said.

“Zach, at the time, was 5-and-a-half years old, and he had always wanted a younger brother, had asked for years for a younger brother,” Friedman Darner said. “Then, he was really worried about him.”

Before that scare, Friedman Darner said Zachary had never even been to a hospital.

“As a result of all that trauma, he ended up really talking about how scary it was and how he really wanted to help children,” Friedman Darner said.

He’s now expressed an interest in becoming a doctor when he grows up, and, of course, he wants to give back to kids who are still in the hospital.

“Because my little brother’s been in the emergency room a lot, I decided that I think the kids in the emergency room should feel good and they should feel self-confident,” Zachary said, “and I think they should feel safe in the hospital.”

Zachary teamed up with his friend Ryan to start making that happen this year.

When Ryan was younger, he once spent Christmas day in the hospital, having injured his leg running down the stairs seriously enough to spend the day there.

“At the end of the day, I got to pick out a toy,” Ryan said.

That is one of the reasons he wants to give back to the children there now.

Both boys and their parents are going door to door to talk to their neighbors about the project. They’re hanging flyers up in local businesses with the information and they’re presenting about the project to three total classes in their schools.

“It’s gaining momentum,” Friedman Darner said. “Everyone we’ve talked to says, ‘Oh, what a great thing, I love it.’ We’re just real excited.”

Friedman Darner, who works with children, said it’s unusual for 7- and 9-year-old children to be so focused on others, instead of their own holiday wish list.

“Our boys are stepping outside of that, really looking at how they can give back to the community,” she said. “They’re pretty amazing.”

Downey said, “Working in healthcare and being on the other side of the fence, being patients and parents of patients, we just really want — and for our boys to know how important it is — to help others.”

This is their first year collecting toys for hospitalized children, but Friedman Darner said the goal is to continue doing this for years, hopefully growing each year.

“They want to build on this each year,” she said. “They want to make it bigger and bigger.”

Zachary and Ryan are hoping to collect 50 toys, stuffed animals and books for children ages 2 to 16 by Friday, Dec. 16. On Dec. 21, they will be delivering toys to Harrison Medical Center and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

Due to hospital restrictions, all items have to be new, with the tags on, to be accepted for donation to the hospitals. There are two locations to drop off toys to help the Kids Helping Toys drive.

n Silverdale: Haselwood Family YMCA will accept toy donations at the front desk. Hours are 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The YMCA is located at 3909 NW Randall Way, Silverdale.

n Bremerton: Donations can be dropped off at the Bremerton Patriot and Central Kitsap Reporter office. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office is located at 645 Fourth St., Suite 201, Bremerton. Call Michelle Beahm at 360-536-4638 for more details about the hours and location.

For more information on how to donate, call 360-536-2584.

Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpub

Clockwise from top left: Beth Friedman Darner, Nicole Downey, Ryan Downey, Noah Darner and Zachary Darner. Partially inspired by Noah’s trips to the emergency room last holiday season, the group is working to collect donations of toys, books and stuffed animals for children ages 2 to 16 who will be in the hospital over the holidays. Michelle Beahm / Kitsap News Group

Zachary Darner, left, and Noah Darner are brothers. Last year, Noah had a health scare that resulted in three trips to the emergency room, which their mother Beth Friendman Darner described as “really traumatic” for Zachary, who’d always wanted a little brother. Those trips inspired Zachary and his friend, Ryan Downey, to collect toys, stuffed animals and books for hospitalized children to bring a little joy to their holidays. Michelle Beahm / Kitsap News Group

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