When Daniel Bral was a child, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer in an individual’s white blood cells. One year, Bral received gifts through the efforts of the Light Up a Life: Binghamton Univeristy Chanukah Toy Drive. Bral beat cancer, and now, he is studying physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University.
On Thursday, the BU Jewish community gathered in Old Union Hall in celebration of their efforts to raise money to purchase toys for Chai Lifeline, an organization based in New York City that serves children who, like Bral did, suffer from cancer and other serious illnesses.
The toy drive, which is now an annual, University-wide effort, was first held by the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life in 2008 as a means of providing more opportunities for students to give back to the community and connect with the values of Hanukkah. During its first year, drive organizers set a goal of raising $3,000 for Chai Lifeline. This year, the initiative began with the Color for Kids run and walk, and raised $32,367.63 to purchase toys. According to Rabbi Levi Slonim, director of programing at Chabad, Hanukkah is about adding good to the world and celebrating personal growth and development.
“This toy drive speaks to that idea of how we light an extra candle every night during Hanukkah and that it expresses that idea that we are constantly growing and that we are bringing tons of light to a lot of people and lighting up a lot of people’s lives,” Slonim said. “We gain just as much as the children receiving these toys.”
The toys will be distributed by Chai Lifeline to hospitals in the New York City area for children battling serious illnesses and spending the holidays as patients. The toy drive at BU is one of many similar initiatives happening around the world to provide toys to the 53,000 children Chai Lifeline serves. According to Melanie Kwestel, director of communications at Chai Lifetime, many children have been assisted by the toy drive over the past nine years.
“I fell in love with the energy here and the dedication of all the students,” Kwestel said. “They have the potential to change how a child feels about illness, how a child feels about hope and optimism and that they will get through it.”
Jessica Hill, an officer and general board member at Chabad and a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, helped organize the toy drive committee. She said everybody involved worked hard to create new ideas for the drive and helped advertise it by tabling on campus, going door to door to collect donations and holding fundraising events.
“I do believe that the toy drive is something special and unlike anything on this campus,” said Hill. “One of the most poignant moments for me would be seeing the passion and dedication that shine from the committee members during our weekly meetings, the ideas and excitement just never ends.”