Assembly lines were formed at Rice Elementary recently with sixth graders working diligently to sort, categorize, box, and organize toys for hospitalized children. It was all part of the Jared Box Project, in its eighth year at Rice and now expanding to other Crestwood schools, an undertaking where totes of donated gifts, toys, and games are packaged and sent to brighten the days of sick children.
The work of the Rice students was efficient and purposed and many stated that the heart behind the project –to bring joy to sick children –was well worth the recess hours they gave up to be volunteers.
“It’s important for those kids who are in the hospital to have something to keep them from being bored and it’s more important that they have a better time than I’d have at recess,” related Chaz Wright, one of the Rice students. “I can play with my friends anytime, but this time I’m taking to help kids is important.”
Carley Pocono, who was busy sorting toys for boxes as Chaz stacked finished ones, agreed. “It makes me feel happy that kids who are sick are going to be getting something that they can have fun with,” she said. “And it makes me feel excited to think about their reactions to getting the boxes.”
The Jared Box Project started in 2001, inspired by a boy named Jared, who in 1999, was given a box of toys from his classmates, students at a school in State College, and he shared those toys with other children he met at the hospital. Although Jared passed away from an incurable brain tumor, the spirit of his and his classmates’ sentiment, to share humor and the joys of childhood through playing, lives on with the Jared Boxes.
At Rice Elementary, the program was initiated by King’s College Baseball Coach, and now Crestwood’s athletic director, Jerry Greeley. For eight years, sixth grade students have volunteered to donate and assemble the boxes, spending countless recess hours doing so. The boxes then are delivered, by members of the King’s baseball team, to sick children, ages two to 12, in local hospitals.
“It truly is a wonderful program that impacts a lot of people,” Rice teacher Chris Covelens stated. “And helping with the donations means a lot to the students.” She applauded the three dozen students who busily assembled boxes recently, noting that, as many volunteered to help with the project, these sixth graders each wrote a heartfelt essay about why they wanted to be included.
“These kids that are sick could get bored in the hospital and we’re helping them with that boredom,” student Mikey Mullisky said. Austin Campbell added, “We’re helping cure kids’ boredom and it feels like we’re helping the community.”
At least 300 boxes were compiled at Rice alone; Fairview Elementary also participated in the project for the first time this year. Of Rice’s 300 Jared Boxes, that means 3,000 toys and games were donated. The students who volunteered were responsible for sorting through the mountainous pile of toys and separating the items in categories of gender and age. They seemed far more mature than sixth grade as they quietly worked as a team, filling and moving boxes with serious looks of determination and pride.
Victoria Allen, who was given the task of creating boxes for boys aged six to eight, explained that she was picking out 10 age-appropriate toys for each box but that she was also being mindful of including a variety of items in each. For example, after putting in one coloring book and one box of crayons, she opted not to include other art supplies, but rather chose items such as a yo-yo or a puzzle. “Most of the toys here, they aren’t too expensive, but they’re all fun,” she said.
In addition to the students all making personal donations of new toys and games that they brought in from home, the program was also supported by donations from St. Paul’s Preschool and a monetary gift from the Rotary Club of Mountaintop. Rotary members Ferris Webby, whose daughter teaches at Rice, Paul Cwalina, and club President Jo Gulvas, all visited to watch the students assemble the boxes and Gulvas noted that the Rotary was pleased to support the project.
Covelens, who was excited that the program is now expanding to Fairview Elementary, concluded that a community project such as this that impacts Mountaintop families and others “is definitely a wonderful cause.”