Editor's Note: Most days, you'll find me with my nose buried in a MacBook, fielding e-mails, updating the site and editing stories. But five days a year, my schedule's a little different. Patch has a company-wide initiative called "Give 5" when your friendly Patch editors set aside our sites for a few hours and head out into our communities to contribute however we can. This sincere appreciation and contribution to our communities is the core of Patch. The editors not only cover their communities but also become part of them. Keep reading to hear about my first Give 5 experience with a very special organization and brainchild of an Oak Forest resident.
People often tell me I'm big-hearted. I'm kick-started by the smallest acts of human kindness and equally moved by moments of genuine need or fulfillment.
But I've got nothing on Oak Forest resident Colleen Kisel and the staff at Pediatric Oncology Treasure Chest Foundation.
The organization collects toys and donations for children undergoing cancer treatments—and I don't doubt that there's enough room in their hearts to hold the toys currently stacked to the ceiling.
By stocking closets and toy trunks in 39 cancer center treatments nationwide, the foundation plays perpetual Santa for the brave kids who endure chemotherapy, radiation, spinal taps and bone marrow aspirations.
I had heard about the Treasure Chest before, but had no idea it was founded by an Oak Forest resident. We featured the foundation a few weeks ago in a piece that compiled 6 ways to give this holiday season. The foundation ran a toy drive in Oak Forest and each time I stopped into city hall, the bin was piled higher with toys.
What a task, I thought, to pack all of those.
Last week I headed over to the Treasure Chest with Mokena Patch editor Caroline Evans, Palos Patch editor Dan Lambert and Orland Park Patch editor Ben Feldheim. The four of us and a staffer tackled as many toys as we could, packaging them up and prepping them for their future shipment into the eager hands of 7,300 patients.
We probably had as much fun as the kids who will pull the toys off of the shelves. We reminisced over Hungry, Hungry Hippo, Apples 2 Apples, Monkeys in a Barrel and (for me) My Little Pony.
Admittedly, there was a moment when I forgot the toys' final destinations. Then a family came in to donate. Their teen-aged daughter passed away in May after a fierce battle with leukemia. The toys had meant so much to her, her mother said as they dropped off two bins of games and toys. It just made sense to give back, she added.
I ducked my head so the family and my fellow editors couldn't see the tears, and I handled the teddy bear in my hands a bit more tenderly. This bear would be a beam of light at the end of one little person's very dark tunnel.
And I was a part of that.
Kisel and I chatted briefly afterward, when she revealed that her 25-year-old son is considered fully recovered from his bout with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. He was diagnosed as a 7-year-old and battled it for two years. Kisel traded a toy for his cooperation with the spinal taps and bone marrow treatments. He was scared and she wanted merely to comfort him. She started the foundation after he was put into remission.
"Never in a million years did I think it would be nationwide," Kisel said. "But because of the generosity of the community, we had no choice."
For those Oak Forest residents who donated, your games, building blocks, stuffed animals and action figures were part of a dramatic increase in donations to the foundation this year. We'll have more on that in a story coming next week.
Know that today, tomorrow, next week, month and year, your generosity will give hope to thousands of very brave, very sick kids.
Your hearts are just as big as Kisel's and it's been a pleasure to witness.