For children who are unwell during a holiday, the pain of a hospital stay can impede on the joy of the season. Rabbi Naftoli and Nechama Perlstein, directors of the Chabad Chai Center in Montreal, Canada, have worked to bring back the joy for more than twenty years. Through the Chai Center’s Toys for a Smile program, thousands of gifts are donated to hospitalized children for Chanukah.
Jack Hoziel helped the Perlsteins grow Toys for a Smile. After a season spent as a patient in the hospital, he realized its potential impact and joined forces with Rabbi Naftoli and Nechama. Today, Jack volunteers in its day-to-day operations. In a letter to the organization’s volunteers, he wrote, “It is difficult to quantify just how much of a difference these gifts make to bedridden patients and those who simply need a boost from a caring soul.” Because of Toys for a Smile, Chanukah can mean something exciting, even for a hospital-bound child.
While some toys are donated by generous community members, Jack solicits donations by reaching out to large toy companies, asking them to get involved. Toys for a Smile works with different companies each year to stay current and keep up with the newest toys on the market.
A few weeks before the holiday, the Chai Center hosts an event where volunteers wrap the gifts while enjoying pizza and music. Most of those who come by are members of the Chai Center’s CTeen and campus outreach programs. Some years, there are so many donations that the Chai Center organizes a second such night.
As Chanukah draws near, local community members deliver the gifts to patients at nearby hospitals and the piles of wrapped presents start to dwindle. In addition to personally gifting presents to each child, the Toys for a Smile volunteers leave an assortment of games and toys in the playroom of each ward.
Nechama wishes there would not be a need for an organization that helps sick children, but as long as there are kids in the hospital, Toys for a Smile will keep coming around. “The doctors try to heal the kids and we can make sure they’re happy.”
To learn more about Toys for a Smile or volunteer, visit www.Toys4ASmile.ca