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December 8, 2016

Cascade students shop for toys for hospitalized children

It was about a week ago that Principal Chad Foltz asked 10 Cascade Elementary students if they wanted to go on a shopping spree for toys.

They and their parents would go to the Toys “R” Us store near Columbia Center mall, where they would be given money to buy whatever they like.

However, the toys aren’t for them. They will go to kids receiving treatment at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. And they will be given in memory of a little boy whose family annually holds a toy drive to help kids and families who sometimes spend weeks and months in hospital rooms.

“It’s not easy to do this every Christmas,” says Jenn Neer, whose son Sutton died of complications following heart surgery in 2010. “But I know what it’s like for those other families. And I’m excited to see kids and parents helping us.”

Sutton was seven-and-a-half-months old when he died, having had the surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Jenn spent Sutton’s entire six week stay at Sacred Heart in Spokane, going back and forth between his hospital room and her own at a hotel. She and her husband, Aaron, came to know many of the staff and families at Sacred Heart and, after Sutton’s death, wanted to give back.

The couple organized Sutton’s Toy Drive to benefit Sacred Heart’s “Santa Store”–a special offering that opens up around Christmas for children staying at the hospital. Young patients are invited to select a toy for each of their siblings as well as one for themselves, providing a way for them to celebrate the holiday when visited by family. Leftover toys are given to patients on their birthdays or after difficult medical procedures.

Partnering with Cascade Elementary for this year’s toy drive was a natural fit; the Neers grew up with Foltz and their son, Cooper, is in the third grade at the school.

“It works perfectly with our school’s philosophy,” Foltz says. “It’s such a great opportunity for the kids to learn about how they can make a difference in this world and help others.”

Students have donated toys to the drive since Thanksgiving, having already filled one large box with stuffed animals, LEGO sets, Barbie dolls, and other toys.

Jenn Neer saw another way for the school to help—what if a few students helped the Neers spend the hundreds of dollars in cash donations they receive for the toy drive? Foltz leaped at the opportunity to have students play a greater role in the toy drive and worked with school staff to select 10 third to fifth-graders for the job. A Cascade parent connected to Toys “R” Us arranged for the selected students to shop at the Kennewick store.

Donations are still coming in so it’s not clear how much the students will each get to spend. Some are already formulating a strategy about what type of toys to go for. And all of them understand the task they’ve been given.

“We were picked to do this, to do something special,” says fifth-grader Maddi Giles.

Sutton’s Toy Drive is accepting donations of cash and toys until December 15. They can be dropped off at Cascade Elementary or at a number of other partners throughout the Tri-Cities. To learn more or to see how to donate online, visit the Neer family’s blog, www.laughterthroughtears.net.