SIDNEY — Twenty-one-year-old Tyler Slaven, of Sidney, has donated a total of 67,324 toys to Nationwide Children’s Hospital through an annual toy drive he has led for the last seven years in collaboration with Ohio Virtual Academy, Ohio’s largest online school.
“We thank students from Ohio Virtual Academy for their continued generosity over the years. Any and all gifts of toys, games, and activity supplies make a big difference to our patients and families who are receiving care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We are so grateful for this donation and the others that have come in; the level of generosity has been astounding and we are happy to have toys and resources to promote play and normalization well into 2022,” said Megan Heinl, assistant director of corporate partnerships at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Slaven began the Ohio Virtual Academy’s holiday toy drive while a high school freshman with the help of his older sister Monica, who was a senior, along with their parents, Justin and Mandy Slaven of Sidney. Two younger siblings currently enrolled in the Ohio Virtual Academy, twins Braydon and Payton Slaven, of Sidney, have since joined the toy drive.
Today Slaven is a college graduate and employed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even though he now lives in Ashland, he says he plans to continue volunteering to lead the toy drive that he began in Sidney.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of the toy drive is knowing you are bringing a smile to the face of kids for Christmas,” Slaven said. “Another is interacting with the many generous hearts in the community who are donors that make this drive possible. It’s pretty neat to see the communities come together year after year.”
But there are also deeper emotions at work that motivated him to initiate and sustain the toy drive.
“When I was less than a year old, I spent time at Nationwide Children’s myself,” said Slaven.
He did not go into detail about the childhood health problem that sent him to Nationwide, but that is one reason Slaven says he feels the holidays are a great time to acknowledge how fortunate we are to be healthy.
Slaven said one way to show gratitude for our own good health at the holidays is to provide a memorable gift. A toy can help spread the Christmas spirit by bringing joy to a less fortunate, sick child — particularly a child who might not see another Christmas.
His sister Monica Slaven notes, “In most cases, we will never get to meet any of these kids during our lifetime, but just knowing you made their life a little brighter in a time that was dark, means so much.”
Nearly every year of the drive, the number of donated toys grew exponentially. From 2015 through December 2018, donations roughly doubled each year, and from 2018 to 2019, they tripled. The onset of COVID, however, disrupted the drive’s rocket to success. During the drive held in first year of COVID-19, donations dropped by roughly half. Still, by the end of year six of the toy drive, Slaven and his family in Sidney helped to oversee the delivery of a total of 46,502 toys.
This year marked the seventh year of the drive. A total of 20,822 toys were collected from 70 drop-off locations stationed around the state of Ohio.
“This is something that we had no idea would grow to the size that it is today. It took two U-Haul trucks to get everything up to the children,” Slaven said. “If each of us could just see these kids in the hospital we all would realize how much of a difference can be made through these gifts. Our only hope is that our efforts will continue to grow through the help of each community, to ensure not a single child in the hospital will ever wake up on Christmas morning without a smile.”
In Sidney, Walmart served as the primary drop-off location. According to C. J. Sharp, store manager, Walmart was happy to serve as a donation drop-off center for toys headed to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He was quick to add that Walmart in Sidney also has other donation and gift-giving programs for the holidays, like the Angel Trees which are still set up in front for the Salvation Army and the toy drop bins for Toys for Tots. “Walmart Gives” is a year-round donation program where community nonprofits can apply for donations online at https://walmart.org/how-we-give/local-community-grants. “It takes about three days to be approved for a community grant, so it’s not too late for Christmas,” said Sharp.
The drive led by Slaven closed on Sunday, Dec. 12, when the toys were picked up in two U-Hauls and other vehicles, and then dropped off at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
To ensure the children’s safety during COVID-19, the toys will be quarantined and then delivered to hospitalized youth, who are unable to be with their families during the holidays, beginning Christmas Day.
“Even though we have finished our 2021 toy drive, we continue to keep the online donation link active for those who still want to contribute. These funds will carry over into 2022 for our eighth annual toy drive. We are looking forward to continuing this yearly tradition for years to come.”
“Donations of toys, art supplies, and books are distributed to patients across the hospital,” wrote Katelyn Scott, senior specialist in media relations at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in an email. “They help our patients experience some favorite activities while in the hospital.”
Slaven has his own Christmas wish. “As we approach Christmas, I would like to encourage everyone who is reading this to reach out to someone in your community, a friend, a neighbor, a stranger, and talk to them. We need each other more than ever.”