Jewish primary schools and nurseries across the capital donated to Camp Simcha’s toy drive. Brigit Grant followed the journeys of three special gifts…
More than 70 schools, nurseries, cheders and shuls gave 8,000 presents to distribute at 110 hospital wards and hospices.
Yet it took just one toy – a yellow engine – and the smile of a nine-year-old boy to show the importance of Camp Simcha’s Toy Drive.
Evan has cystic fibrosis and has been a patient at Watford Hospital for six years but, for a brief moment on Monday, he was distracted by the presence of TV personality Tania Bryer, who gave him the engine donated by children at Wolfson Hillel in Enfield.
Jewish primary school pupils give tzedakah weekly, although rarely do they get the opportunity to see who benefits from their donations.
But this year, for the first time, in their 18-year Toy Drive history, Camp Simcha allowed us to follow the journey of three toys, so the pupils could see the recipients for themselves.
The pupils at Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School in Mill Hill were really excited about being involved and encouraged to do so by their headteacher Yvonne Baron.
“Camp Simcha is an incredible charity, which makes a unique and powerful contribution within our community,” said Yvonne, as pupils from different years gathered around a Camp Simcha box overflowing with gifts, including the Disney Elsa toddler doll that we followed to the packing centre at Kinloss Synagogue last Sunday.
It was there that actress Tracy-Ann Oberman helped put the 8,000 toys into bags, assisted by more than 50 volunteers of all ages who packed and labelled the gifts all afternoon. Along with Elsa was the engine from Wolfson Hillel.
Headteacher Kirsten Jowett was delighted so many of her pupils were supporting the Toy Drive. “Camp Simcha visit us often and our children know how important these gifts are. They can’t wait to hear from the children receiving the presents and wish them a happy Chanukah.”
This support was reiterated by Deborah Harris, Jewish Studies Lead at Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary school, which has supported the charity for many years. “It gives our pupils an opportunity to think of others who are not as fortunate as them and it is wonderful that the gifts are being distributed to children of all denominations, who are spending Chanukah and Christmas in hospital.”
The magic kit given by WIJPS was certainly a big hit, with 11-year-old Oliver, who couldn’t wait to lift the lid on the giant box of tricks.
“I’m guessing you know what to do,” chuckled Tania Bryer as Oliver pulled out a pack of cards.
“He better not pull any tricks on me,” warned his mum, who never leaves his side at Watford’s Starfish ward.
The arrival of broadcaster Vanessa Feltz at Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital on Tuesday certainly caused a stir and the nurses on the childrens’ ward were eager to take selfies.
But it was two-year-old Leen who grabbed Vanessa’s attention when she arrived in the playroom by toy car.
“Would you like to get out and meet Elsa?” she asked. Leen didn’t need to be asked twice and the doll given by Etz Chaim finally reached the end of its journey.
An emotional one for Camp Simcha’s staff and volunteers and a memorable one for the Jewish school children who now understand what giving truly means.