7th Annual Toy Drive Returns Spreading Christmas Cheer to Kids at Riley Hospital

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When she was just four years old, Carrington Craig went with her mother to visit her great aunt in the hospital. While they were there, Carrington spotted a child in a wheelchair and she asked her mom, Shelly, if Santa would come down the chimney for the boys and girls at the hospital.

Shelly responded, “No, but parents are more concerned about the gift of health than they are with toys.”

True as that may be, Carrington couldn’t shake the image of this little boy waking up on Christmas morning in a hospital, without any toys.

“Can we give him some toys?” Carrington asked her mother.

“Yes, but you’ll have to figure out how to do it,” Shelly said.

The wheels started spinning, and the following week each time a friend called to RSVP to the family’s holiday party, Carrington took the phone from her mom and asked the person on the other end of the line to bring a toy to the party. The night of the shindig, she stood at the front door holding a black garbage to collect the goodies.

“If someone showed up empty-handed, Carrington sent them to Walmart before she’d let them come inside,” Shelly says with a laugh.

That Christmas, Carrington delivered 70 toys to the boy in the hospital, who shared his bounty with the other patients in the pediatric unit. It was such a beautiful memory that the following year when 5-year-old Carrington was caroling with her family, she turned to her mother and asked, “When are we going to start collecting toys for the hospital kids?”

“Oh, so you want to make this an annual thing?” Shelly asked.

“Absolutely!” Carrington exclaimed.

And so it began. Shelly established the Carrington and Friends Foundation, and the Annual Carrington & Friends Toy Drive: Caroling for A Cause at Riley Hospital North was born. Over the past seven years, the toy drive has grown exponentially. Carrington, now 11, and her mother begin collecting toys and donations in October, not just for the little ones but also for teenagers.

“We get gift cards to Best Buy, TJ Maxx, or Marshalls for the teens,” Shelly says. “Any leftover cash we receive, we purchase gas cards to give to families, many of whom are not local.”

This year, Carrington, who is huge into STEM, created her first Carrington Craig Scholarship Fund in which she plans to raise money to send middle schoolers to space camp who don’t have the funds to go. This year, however, she’s chosen to have her first scholarship proceeds go toward benefiting Orchard Park Elementary School, which is scheduled to close in the next few years.

With ideas constantly percolating inside of Carrington’s head, this little girl, with a giving heart, also hopes to secure sponsorship so that they can donate perishable food items three times a month to those who live in less fortunate neighborhoods. The rationale behind that is that most of the time people give food at Thanksgiving but of course people are hungry year-round.

“If I can pull it together, we’re going to tackle that next,” Shelly says. “She’s got me running from pillar to post with all of the things going on, but she’s a pretty amazing child that she would have such a heart at such a young age to want to help people so I’m happy to do it.”

During the Carrington & Friends Toy Drive and Caroling event, Carrington and her friends enter Riley’s lobby to sing while the pediatric patients hang over the balcony to listen. They break up the two-hour event into manageable segments so as to not fatigue the patients, starting with a 30-minute set of songs, then providing food and games, then a raffle, followed by another set of singing. This year they’re also bringing a deejay. The event concludes with toy distribution. 

They collect toys of all kinds, including robots, board games, learning toys, babies and baby items — anything wipeable to keep germs at bay. The only item that is not allowed is stuffed animals as they cannot be sanitized. Last year the hot items were primarily Star Wars and Marvel-related.

“One little boy, a cancer patient, received a Black Panther costume and was over the moon ecstatic about it,” Shelly says.

Last year they collected 2,200 toys. Every child at Riley North got three toys and the rest were distributed downtown. Carrington felt good when she received a letter from a philanthropy staff member at Riley that said, “For years we worried about children not being able to have toys at Christmas, and now that we have you guys, we’re not concerned at all.”

As for Carrington, her motivation for helping is really quite simple.

“This is important to me,” she says, “because it makes me happy to give to kids!”

To learn more about the Carrington & Friends Foundation or to make a donation, visit carringtonandfriends.wixsite.com/carringtonandfriends.

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