Since 2009, Lockeford’s Jim Self and his family have spearheaded a toy drive dedicated to providing children at UC Davis Children’s Hospital with toys for the holidays. The tradition began after the passing of 8-year-old Aiyana Self, who lost her battle to leukemia in 2009.
For children diagnosed with a terminal disease, or who are seeking medical care, the holidays can be bleak. However, at UC Davis they are focused on providing children with a sense of normalcy during the holiday season, by providing toys to children as they embrace the season.
According to Tricia Tomiyoshi, senior public information officer at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, the toys help the children escape the somber reality of being in the hospital on Christmas.
“We have a tradition at the hospital, children get brand new pajamas and a book on Christmas Eve, and while the children are sleeping, Santa comes into the rooms and drops off the gifts to the children,” Tomiyoshi said.
The gifts the children receive are all donated to the hospital, and the children get to select which toys they would like to get.
However, the toys are not just for the holidays, they are also meant to mark milestones in treatment for the children.
“If someone finishes chemo or gets surgery we usually give them a toy to mark the milestone,” said Tomiyoshi, adding “we also give children toys when they are having a bad day or if they are feeling sad, it helps to lift up their spirits.”
For father Jim Self, he witnessed the impact that the toys made for his own daughter while she was receiving treatment.
“I remember how just getting a toy would bring a smile to my daughter’s face, and knowing that someone did that for my daughter is what motivated us to do the toy drive,” said Self.
Self began collecting toys throughout Northern California, and has picked up toys from the Sierra foothills and Turlock. He had a donation box set up at Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, and at fire departments in Ripon and Clements.
“There was a chef in San Francisco that had a fundraising dinner where all the proceeds made that evening were donated to purchase toys, and I went and picked up the toys,” Self said.
The toy drive has gained so much attention that Self is able to donate a U-Haul truck filled with toys to both UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Sutter Children’s Hospital.
Both hospitals hold a special place in the hearts of the Self family.
“When Aiyana was first diagnosed it was at Sutter before she was moved to UC Davis, and they both do the same thing, they give the children toys for the holidays and for milestones in their treatment,” Self said.
Self recalls nursing staff telling him that a smile is the best medicine, and how powerful that statement was and how it resonated with him.
“For many families, the bonds that are made with the nursing staff becomes so close it is like having a second family throughout the treatment process,” Tomiyoshi said.
The Self family was amazed at how much support they had gained just in their first year as they collected toys.
The Self family is constantly receiving donations to deliver to the children in treatment. However, they collect toys for the holiday at the beginning of October. They have gained a lot of support from local and neighboring communities in honor of their daughter.
“As a parent, seeing your child hurting is extremely difficult and then when they light up after getting a toy, seeing that smile is everything,” Self said. “It was incredible to see how much we were able to get and give back to the hospital, and we are extremely grateful that it has gotten to be as big, that we can donate to both hospitals.”