Since inpatients cannot not leave the hospital to shop for gifts over the holidays, one City of Hope supporter brought the shopping straight to them.
|Ryan Russek wraps gifts as part of his Wish Upon a Toy giving effort. (Photo by p.cunningham)|
Ryan Russek’s effort, called “Wish Upon a Toy,” provides adult inpatients the opportunity to shop for toys, just like they would in a store, for their children and young relatives. The program, which recently completed its sixth year, provides the gifts at no charge.
“Christmas time is magical and my wife, Cassie, and I enjoy putting smiles on patients’ faces,” said Russek, who lives in La Habra, Calif. “And, since inpatients can’t leave the hospital to shop, it made sense to bring the shopping to them.”
Russek’s idea came about during the 2004 holiday season when his father, Ronald Russek, was undergoing treatment at City of Hope for renal cell carcinoma. He and his father felt every pediatric inpatient should have toys to open during the holidays, so they delivered holiday gifts to pediatric patients in the hospital.
His father passed away a year later on Christmas day, but the younger Russek knew his dad would want the gift-giving tradition to continue. So he promised that he would return and deliver toys every year during the holidays to children in the hospital.
In 2007, Russek’s church in Rancho Cucamonga learned of his efforts and began collecting toys for the cause. As word spread throughout the community, more companies began to collect toys, including 15 California National Bank branches, as well as Western Christian School in Claremont.
With a sudden influx of toys, Russek expanded the program to adult inpatients — allowing them to give toys to their young relatives. “To see a patient’s face light up when they spot that perfect gift for their loved ones makes the experience all that much better,” he says.
Russek recruited the help of City of Hope recreational therapists Laura Castillo, C.T.R.S., Edwin Domingo, R.T.C., and Erin Woolman, R.T.C., to help with the 2010 Wish Upon a Toy event. “The patients are forever grateful for the opportunity to give gifts to their family members,” said Castillo. “They are overwhelmed with emotion because they have something to give back to those who are constantly giving and caring for them.”
Last year, Russek received support from more local businesses, including five U.S. Bank branches, CarMax in Buena Park, Calif., Walmart and employees at Target. U-Haul donated a truck to transport the toys to City of Hope. He hopes to turn his efforts into a nonprofit organization so he can help more patients and family members.