Under steady rain on Wednesday morning, a team of elementary school students and their supporters, led by 9-year-old Zachary Darner, helped haul hundreds of gifts out of a U-Haul truck and into a Bremerton hospital.
It was the third annual delivery day for Kidzz Helping Kidzz, a nonprofit conceived by the fourth grader to collect donated toys and deliver them to children in hospitals across the Puget Sound region.
This holiday season the organization, which formed as an official nonprofit this year, broke its own record for total number of toys delivered by a staggering margin. Zachary’s mother, Beth Friedman Darner, said the group raised 259 toys for sick kids three years ago. Last year it raised 1,589. And this year, Zachary announced during a presentation on Wednesday, the organization raised 5,890.
Zachary beamed as hospital administrator David Schultz presented him with a “certificate of gratitude” as observers, nonprofit volunteers and members of the press snapped photos.
“So should we bring the toys in?” Schultz asked. “Yes!” Zachary responded, to the crowd’s approval.
Friedman Darner said Zachary was moved to start Kidzz Helping Kidzz after his younger brother, Noah, suffered from kidney problems shortly after birth and wound up spending time in the ER.
“One of my favorite quotes to describe Zachary,” Friedman Darner said, “is he’s an ordinary kid, with extraordinary determination.”
The rented U-Haul was fully packed with boxes carrying Hot Wheels, board games, stuffed animals, dolls and a host of other items for kids. Donations were collected at 55 sites all over the region, Friedman Darner said, and Zachary spoke at Rotary clubs and schools to help promote his efforts.
Friedman Darner said she was able to get official permission from the principal of Zachary’s school, Brownsville Elementary in Bremerton, to take Zachary and about 10 of his classmates out to help with the delivery effort on Wednesday.
“It’s a field trip,” she said.
Zachary may have felt like a local celebrity, as a small crowd of people held smartphones, capturing photo ops with hospital officials and others. In front of a stack of toys in the hospital lobby, Zachary posed again with Schultz, Harrison’s market president for the Peninsula region. They shared a fist bump.
After unloading about a quarter of their inventory at Harrison hospital in Bremerton, the truck departed for the ferry en route to Seattle Children’s Hospital, Friedman Darner said. Their third stop would be at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.