Wilmette, Community

Evanston Hospital’s first community toy drive sets up in Wilmette

Generous minds think alike. And thanks to that phenomenon, local hospitalized children should enjoy happy holidays.

Multiple local groups have joined forces to make Wilmette the drop-off point for NorthShore University HealthSystem’s first Holiday Toy Drive, which begins Wednesday, Dec. 1.

“It’s this really wonderful community project,” said Katelyn Beyer, a child-life coordinator for NorthShore. “It was like a ripple effect. One parent shared her story and contacted us and others got involved and that ripple effect can bring so much joy and comfort to kids this season.” 

After her child was in Evanston Hospital earlier this year, Wilmette’s Kate Groff called Beyer to see if she could pay the hospital’s kindness forward by helping to organize a local toy drive.

Beyer was already thinking about ways to reach out to local communities for a similar project. The two collaborated, along with the Wilmette Fire Department and Wilmette Cub Scout Pack 5, to launch the drive from Dec. 1-20 in the lobby of the fire station at 1304 Lake Ave. in Wilmette.

The station is also hosting its annual toy drive for Toys for Tots.

“It turned into this really great community effort to support the local hospital,” Groff said, “and to make sure kids who come to the hospital over the holidays receive gifts.”

NorthShore University HealthSystems includes seven area hospitals, but only Evanston Hospital has a dedicated pediatric unit. 

Beyer said the unit is relatively small, with only 20 patient rooms. In the past, the hospital has collected toy donations at the hospital. This is the first year it is working within the community, she said. 

Groff is a nurse practitioner who moved to Wilmette in 2021. When her 1-year-old son, Oliver, fell ill, he was cared for at Evanston Hospital for four days, Groff said. 

“We felt blessed and lucky with the care we received,” she said. “We were grateful. I told them if there is anything they need help with.”

When the two touched base again, they set out to build a community toy drive. Thanks to her other son, Groff got the Scouts involved and even reached out to Wilmette Village President Senta Plunkett for support. 

The hospital is requesting any new children’s toys — still packaged but not holiday wrapped — from “Play-Doh to Legos to trains to craft kits or science projects for older kids,” Beyer said.

Beyer said gifting toys to children in the hospital does good on more than one level.

“A lot of kids, it may be their first time in the hospital and may not have language to use,” she said. “Play allows them to express themselves and emotionally heal. We can see how they are doing and how they are healing. It also brings that normalcy, the … sense of home and control because they are out of their element and safe space.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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