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More than 168 Normandy Elementary first-grade students collected 85 toys to help bring smiles to children at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. Pictured are: from left, front row seated: Silas Rosario and Savannah Rising; Middle row kneeling, from left: Evan Madden and Elliott Gates; standing back row, from left: Julie Hack, Francine Berry, Evangeline Marzavas and Charlotte Kousaie.

BAY VILLAGE

Christmas has come and gone, but that hasn’t stopped the giving spirit in Bay Village.

Recently, first-grade students at Normandy Elementary School donated 85 toys collected for children at University Hospitals Cleveland Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

“Community service is such an important part of our lives,” said first-grade teacher Julie Hack. “Children need to know that no matter how young they are, they can make a difference.”

The donation was part of a two-week toy drive organized by Hack and Bay resident Kristen Gates. The drive took place near the end of February and involved the entire first-grade class. The effort collected items including Barbie dolls, puzzles, flashlights and coloring books.

The school held the drive for two reasons. The first was to help children recovering in the hospital to pass the time. The second was to teach the students about the impact they can make by helping others, Gates said.

“I’m a big believer in service-learning projects,” Gates said. “It shows our children the importance of being good citizens and helping those in need.”

Donations were collected in a bin outside of Hack’s classroom, where the first-graders could drop off toys before school began, Hack said.

Students and families were asked to bring in new toys for three groups: infants, preschoolers and school-age/adolescents. Rattles, educational toys and toy cars were requested.

Playing with toys and games while in the hospital can help normalize the unfamiliar surroundings and create a positive experience. Toys also help hospital staff engage children who are shy or have communication issues, according to Rockinghorse, a UK-based charity for children.

While the drive is over, donations don’t have to stop. University Hospitals is looking for items such as handheld video games, card games and disposable cameras. For a complete list of toys to donate, go to uhhospitals.org/locations/uh-cleveland-medical-center/volunteer-services/other-ways-you-can-help/wish-list

The drive was so successful that Hack and Gates are considering bringing it back and expanding it next year.

“I was born and raised in Bay Village. I got the chance to work for fundraisers in Los Angeles,” Gates said. “Coming back, I felt it was important to expose our children to different viewpoints and experiences.”

Contact this reporter akamczyc@westlifenews.com or 216-307-6614.

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