Local dental office spreads holiday cheer to Mary Bridge families
By Kortney Scroger
Imagine your child being so sick, they can’t leave the house. Their medical care is so complicated that it keeps you and your family isolated, and leaves you financially and emotionally exhausted.
That’s how John Winskill, DDS, describes being the parent of a child with acute medical needs. At three months old, his son Christopher was brought to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with a life-limiting illness and stayed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for the next four months. When he left the hospital, he was still on a ventilator and has remained that way ever since. He has needed around-the-clock care plannedfor the last 29 years.
“As a parent, you discover that your last day of a worry-free life is the first day your child is born. When your child is sick like this, it’s all-encompassing,” Dr. Winskill says.
During Christopher’s hospital stays over the years, Dr. Winskill and his wife were introduced to a world they didn’t know existed; a world where a family’s sole responsibility and focus was to make sure that their child got healthier or in some cases, simply survived.
“When you have a kid like this, you are completely out of control. There is nothing you can do to solve this problem. So, you look somewhere else for a way to help,” he says.
This feeling inspired him to create his very own fundraiser, Toys for Kids. 27 years ago, he approached Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital with the idea of providing holiday gifts for chronically ill children and their siblings.
Toys for Kids works directly with social workers at Mary Bridge to identify families that need a little help around the holidays. Mothers like Alex, whose ability to work is limited due to her daughter’s condition.
"Receiving gifts during the holidays is huge for me and my family. Being a single mom to a disabled child takes a lot of work and time, so my hours to work a regular job are limited,” she says. “I am so grateful for the Toys for Kids program because I was able to give my daughter gifts that I would not be able to afford."
Each qualifying family fills out a wish list for their children, then in December, a group of volunteers shops for each child.
The shopping is what Jerri Brown looks forward to every year. She’s Dr. Winskill’s office manager, and head Toys for Kids organizer.
“Shopping day is my favorite. It’s the day everything comes together and it becomes personal because you can picture the family and how excited they’re going to be when they receive the gifts,” she says.
Once each wish list is fulfilled, the toys are transported to Mary Bridge (with help from Boush Moving and Storage) and available for pick-up by the respective families. Toys for Kids also provides wrapping supplies so parents can add their own personal touch.
“Toys for kids was created to give families a shot at a normal life for the holidays, because they have sacrificed everything that they have,” Dr. Winskill explains.
Although the culmination of this fundraiser occurs during the holidays, Dr. Winskill and his group of helpers fundraise throughout the year. From coin drives to quilt raffles; bake sales to bunco parties, supporting these patients and their families is always a priority.
“It’s a year-round effort. We think about it all of the time,” Jeri says.
Since 1991, Toys for Kids has raised over $460,000 and provided gifts to more than 3,500 children.
Maria Gomez-Jimenez, another parent of a Mary Bridge patient, says the gifts make the holidays a little brighter.
“The donation of these gifts means providing happiness to many families experiencing difficult times. These gifts are a blessing.”
Ways to help
You can donate to Toys for Kids online or participate in anmy of the year-round fundraisers organized by Dr. Winskill's dental office and surroounding community organizations.
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