As kids around the Bay area enjoy their summer vacations, the typical July afternoon often includes such sun-splashed activities as a day at summer camp or a trip to the beach. Last Friday, however, was a different sort of summer day for some very special kids recovering from injury and illness, as Christmas came early to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.
Thanks to St. Joseph's, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a community that responded with overwhelming generosity, the winter holidays took over the hospital on Friday and made it a less intimidating place for some young people in need.
Linebacker Quincy Black and a group of Buccaneers Cheerleaders visited the hospital to take part in its annual "Christmas in July" toy and donation drive. The event seeks to gather new toys that will provide comfort and support for hospitalized children during their stays. This year's drive was a rousing success, bringing in $45,000 worth of toys and donations.
"Medical settings are a new, unfamiliar world for most children, and providing them with a toy or activity can bring a momentary escape from the hospital experience and their illness," said Leah Frohnerath, Child Life Supervisor at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. "A well-stocked toy closet ensures that patients receive a gift on holidays, birthdays, during significant milestones in their treatment and whenever they need additional comfort."
Along with first-class facilities, medical treatment and emotional support at the Children's Hospital, doctors and staff encourage playing with toys as a way to improve a child's hospital stay. Playtime can serve as a welcome distraction from therapy, medication and spending significant time away from home.
That's where Black and generous donors throughout Tampa Bay came in last week.
"I think it means a lot just to brighten up their day," said Black, who attended the event for the second year in a row. "This is something that they don't get to experience a lot. It shows that they're not forgotten, that people care about them and that people in this community acknowledge the struggles that they're going through. There are people out there that want to help, even if it's just in small ways like giving toys. So it means a lot."
The circular driveway outside of the Children's Hospital was transformed into a fully-functional drive-through location for individuals to drop off toys during the day. Upon arrival, the linebacker did his part as well, unloading several large bags of toys from his car to contribute to the cause.
"It feels great to be in a position to give," said Black. "Hopefully, some other people can come out here and experience the same feelings that I'm feeling right now."
For the staff at St. Joseph's, Black's decision to volunteer his time during his final week of vacation made the event all the more special.
"It really makes me feel good because it's nice to see the players really reach out to the community and involve themselves," said Frohnerath. "For the kids, oh my goodness... it makes them so happy to see some famous person that's going to be on TV every Sunday."
Essentially next-door neighbors to the hospital, the Bucs are always eager to get involved with events such as last week's drive.
"It's important for the Bucs to show their support because for one, it's right down the street," said Black. "But a lot of people are intertwined in the community and you have to go out and support the community that you live in."
Black wasn't the only local football player in attendance. To assist hospital staff members, the entire Land O' Lakes varsity football team was on hand to help collect donations throughout the day. And of course there was Santa Claus - sporting a Hawaiian shirt and shorts for the summer - delivering toys and bringing some added holiday spirit to the day.
Donations came in the form of gift cards, electronics, kid-friendly movies, puzzles, arts and crafts supplies, crib mobiles, teen games, magazines and more. For current and future patients, a refurbished playroom, birthday gift or reward for completing a difficult procedure will go miles towards making the hospital experience more enjoyable.
As Frohnerath could attest, the reaction from the families on Friday was overwhelming.
"[I've seen] just amazement at this support," said Frohnerath. "The families, they've all come and told me how wonderful it is - the support from the community and the smiles from the kids."
For the Buccaneer linebacker, the rewarding feeling he experienced was just a bonus.
"It makes you feel good, but it's really not about me," said Black. "It's about how they feel and the joy that giving these toys brings them."