PORT ORCHARD — Zachary Darner, 8, of Bremerton has collected nearly 2,000 toys in two years to donate to children stuck in hospitals over the holiday season.
He’s starting early this year on his quest to collect another 5,000 toys, thanks in large part to a very generous donation.
The Port Orchard Eagles donated about 1,500 toys to Darner’s nonprofit Kidzz Helping Kidzz, which were officially presented to Darner and his family April 5.
“I think it’s awesome that people actually want to give,” Darner said. “I think Christmas is about giving, not getting.”
Darner started doing this in 2016 after experiencing what it was like to spend Christmas in a hospital when his younger brother Noah was admitted in 2015.
The following year, Darner and a friend began a project to collect 50 toys to donate to children in the hospital. They collected almost 260. In 2017, Darner, who had a goal of 1,000 toys, collected more than 1,500.
“Toys are everything to kids,” Darner said. “Toys make kids feel happy, they make them feel safe. I think I would want a toy if I was in the hospital.”
This year, he’s already well on his way, with the help of the Eagles.
The Port Orchard Eagles work every year to raise money for Toys for Tots. They want to give children a Christmas they otherwise might not have.
Four years ago, according to former chapter president Tom Riedel, Toys for Tots had more toys than it could manage and asked the Eagles if they wanted to distribute them.
“It was leftover on Christmas from Toys for Tots,” Riedel said.
“We weren’t told how many toys, just that they had toys. I said ‘yeah.’ We got out there and went, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
Riedel said it took an entire day and multiple moving-truck loads to transport all the toys.
In the four years since then, the toys have been moved around a lot as available storage waxed and waned. It wasn’t until one member, Ron Weekes, read about Kidzz Helping Kidzz that they finally figured out what to do with the toys.
“We really like Kidzz Helping Kidzz,” said Ken Bicha, another former president of the Eagles, “because we’re people helping people.”
On April 5, Ridel, Weekes and Bicha met with Darner, his brother and his parents, Beth Friedman Darner and Rhandel Darner, to present the toys to the family.
The Darners are searching for enough storage space for the toys to keep until it’s time to deliver them to Harrison Medical Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in December. In the meantime, the Eagles will continue to store them.
“Our goal out of this is not any self-recognition,” Riedel said.
“Our goal is to inspire not only other children, but other adults. We’ve all got busy lives, but you know what? We’re never that busy that we can’t step up and help somebody else.”