CENTRAL KITSAP — When Zachary Darner, 7, and Ryan Downey, 9, set out to start collecting toys for the holiday season with the help of their mothers Beth Friedman Darner and Nicole Downey, they had a goal of getting 50 toys to donate to the children’s units of local hospitals.
Now, with only a few days left of their month-long drive, they have about tripled their goal.
“We believe we’ve got probably in the neighborhood of maybe 150 toys thus far,” Friedman Darner said Tuesday morning.
The response has been so good, in fact, she said they decided to extend the drive until 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19, from the original deadline of Dec. 16.
“We thought of actually increasing our goal to maybe 175 toys by the end of Monday,” she said.
Zachary interjected by exclaiming his goal is to reach 200 toys, or — even better — 250.
“We can certainly see what we get,” Friedman Darner said, “but we know that the hospitals, particularly Mary Bridge, will accept whatever we’re able to provide. There’s no limit.”
Regardless of the new goal and how many toys they’ve raised, Friedman Darner said she is “completely amazed” at the community response.
“We’re just having an overwhelming response,” she said. “We are utterly shocked. We had no idea a year ago when we started thinking about this that folks would contribute to this.”
She said a contractor in Poulsbo, after hearing about the Kids Helping Kids toy drive, made arrangements to drop off a donation of 30 toys collected by him and his employees.
“(He) called this weekend and said, ‘You know, I was over at the Y and saw the box and I have more than what the box can hold,” Friedman Darner said, referring to a wardrobe-sized box the YMCA is using to collect donations.
She added that one of the other boxes was completely full when her husband checked it on Monday. A third was overflowing, so staff members had to keep some of the toys behind their desks to make room for more.
“The community has just stepped up and given without even knowing these boys, just given based on the message,” she said. “We are completely amazed and just really grateful that the community has felt this is a worthwhile project. It’s really sending a message to these two boys about how important it is to help others, how important it is to be kind and caring and give to others, especially during the holidays.”
Zachary and Ryan said that meeting their goal of 50 toys, then receiving so many extra toys to donate feels great.
“We’re going to probably fill up the whole hospital,” Zachary said.
Other than leaving boxes at local businesses for toy collection, Zachary and Ryan talked to three classes at their school and went around their neighborhood together to talk to neighbors about the project. Friedman Darner said family friends and neighbors would just show up at their house unannounced to drop off toys so often that they put a donation box on their doorstep for people to leave toys in when they weren’t home.
“Working together has really compounded things,” Nicole Downey said. “That really provided so much greater depth than I think if one kid had just tried to do it on their own.”
Zachary said that neighbors would tell him, “I think you’re doing a really good project and we just want to support you.”
Ryan said he heard from neighbors, “I just want to help you with this project and I think this is a really great project and I’m really proud of you.”
Both boys had personal reasons to start this project. About a year ago, Zachary’s younger brother Noah spent quite a bit of time in the hospital, which Friedman Darner said was a “traumatizing experience” for Zachary, who’d never been in a hospital before. When he was younger, Ryan fell down some stairs on Christmas morning, resulting in him spending the day in the hospital.
Their personal experiences really motivated them to start this project, and now the “overwhelming” response this year is really pushing them to continue it next year.
“We want to grow the project,” Friedman Darner said. “We need to spend some time to really think about what went well, what could we have done differently and really evaluate what our next steps are.
“Zachary said his goal was 500 toys this year and next year, 1,000,” she added. “He’s really committed.”
Zachary said, “I’m excited to keep doing it over and over and over again. And give more to the children that are in need. It’s just amazing how many toys we got in only one month.”
The group is collecting donations of toys, stuffed animals and books to donate to children who will be at Harrison Medical Center and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital over Christmas. Hospital regulations dictate that all donations must be unopened and in their original packaging. Donations can be dropped off at the Haselwood Family YMCA, Silverdale Pediatrics, Johnson Link Orthodontics, Family Dentistry or the Bremerton Patriot office.
For more information on where to drop off toys, call 360-536-2584.
Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. She can be reached at email@example.com.