The Toy Closet: The reward, the bribe, the closet of smiles.

The significance of the toy closet goes beyond the smiles we see in our office when a child picks out a toy. The toys we provide to children battling cancer and their siblings, are a reward for their bravery. Many kids know that when they leave their home for treatment or for a doctor’s visit, they can stop by our office and check out the toy closet.

Our staff finds little moments of gratification – as should the donors who help keep it stocked – when a child walks through the door and beelines for the closet. They deserve it. A childhood cancer diagnosis is a family diagnosis and the whole family is affected by the demanding treatment schedules, upheaval of everyday life, and the emotional burden it causes. A child battling cancer and their siblings should be rewarded for their bravery.

When we open both closet doors, it only takes a few seconds before each child has a toy in hand. They may teeter between choices for a few minutes but resolve to pick their favorite in the end. Sometimes we receive requests to save a toy “for next time.” A truly heartwarming experience for our staff is when a child stops in the office and asks to also pick out a toy for their sibling.

Toys provided have a greater significance to families than a way to amuse a child during a car ride to the hospital. The toys help serve an escape from the trials at hand.

“You have been something for [our son] to look forward to each time he gets treatment because he knows that after he is brave at the clinic he gets to go to NNCCF and pick out a new book or toy.”

A word that has been tossed around by parents to explain how the toys help the child through a tough hospital stay is “bribe.” We do not typically use that term because we think of the toys as a reward, but when you’re a parent trying to calm your screaming child (every day, week, etc.) who is terrified of needles – if a toy is a bribe, let the toy be a bribe.

Parents have told us that they have utilized toys with multiple components to help go through the steps of treatment. There are many steps in a “typical” treatment day. The process can range from having blood drawn, port accessed, medication given, vitals taken, etc. For example, the LOL Surprise Dolls (appropriate for children ages 5 an up) have multiple toys individually packaged in the surprise container. One mom told us that as they move through each step of the process, she will give her daughter a toy to open. Then when the toy is complete, the little girl plays with her reward as she waits for her infusion to be over.

Recently, we provided a large basket of toys for a family headed in for surgery and a long hospital stay. The father expressed his gratitude about the toys being a “life-saver.” As his child was prepped for surgery, cared for after surgery, prepped for an infusion, etc., he was able to emotionally occupy his child who didn’t understand why she couldn’t get out of bed, why everything hurt, and why they weren’t at home.

We receive many toy donations during the holidays, however around this time of year we need donations of new toys for all age groups. Each year at the end of spring, we experience a bit of a toy-cabinet famine. There’s a little more space between each toy – the misfit toys of Christmas past sit on the shelf, waiting to be chosen (queue “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” from Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys).

Throughout the year, we receive toys from individual donors, community partner toy drives, and our Amazon Wish List. One of our Community Partners, Learning Express Toys in south Reno, has a unique toy drive throughout the year for our foundation. At the store, they keep a bin behind the counter and offer a discount for any toys purchased for our foundation. Once the bin is full, they give us a call.

We have toys for every child – infant to young adult. We tend to stay away from plush toys, as they are hard to wash in a hospital setting. Many of our families stay in the hospital for weeks at a time and need toys that can be cleaned in a sink or with a disinfectant wipe.

As we provide financial and emotional support for these local families in the fight, we are grateful that the toy closet is one small way that we can put a smile on their face. If you would like to donate toys or host your own toy drive, please contact us! You can check out our Amazon Wish List here.