Toy Closet celebrates 20 years, thousands of gifts — and a million smiles

Marjan Wackers (left) shares a doll with Cayden Booker, the daughter of Arica Brown, supervisor, Environmental Services, as Ann Nyberg, Toy Closet Program founder, visits one of the Toy Closets in the Children's Hospital.
Marjan Wackers (left) shares a doll with Cayden Booker, the daughter of Arica Brown, supervisor, Environmental Services, as Ann Nyberg, Toy Closet Program founder, visits one of the Toy Closets in the Children's Hospital.

The hospital's Toy Closet Program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Coordinated by the Yale-New Haven Hospital Auxiliary, the program provides a new toy to each pediatric patient receiving care at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital.

In 1993, local news anchor Ann Nyberg founded the Toy Closets and, with the support of Marjan Wackers, Auxiliary president at the time, the Auxiliary formally launched the program in the fall of that year.

Program organizers rely on donations of toys to fill the closets and donors include civic and service organizations, school and university groups, area businesses, hospital employees and individuals, often including former pediatric patients and their families.

The program is also supported by funds raised from the annual Toy Closet Golf Outing. Auxiliary Toy Closet committee members solicit donations, coordinate the toys once received, sort the items into age-appropriate categories, stock the closets and deliver toys to outpatient areas throughout the hospital.

The Toy Closet program also supports other child-focused recreational and therapeutic activities guided by child life specialists, pediatric nurses, social workers and medical staff.

Nyberg has said that she had heard about a similar program in another area of the country and was moved when she realized how much the prospect of a new toy means to a child going through an illness or difficult procedure.

"It is so important to give a child something to look forward to after what can be a scary or difficult visit to the hospital," agreed Chris Dowling, chair of the Toy Closet Program. "When the gift of a new toy brings a smile to a child's face, it makes all of the work of this program very rewarding."

"The toy closet program has grown and expanded greatly over the years," Dowling continued. "When the program first launched, we stocked six ‘closets' or armoires in the Children's Hospital with toys. Today, the program provides toys to 27 areas that include the Children's Hospital inpatient and outpatient locations on the main campus and other hospital locations."

At the beginning, organizers estimated they would need approximately 8,000 toys per year to serve every child. Last year, more than 85,000 toys were distributed to pediatric patients at various Yale-New Haven sites.

"We are thrilled to celebrate this important milestone of this wonderful program," said Wackers, Toy Closet pioneer and chair emerita of the committee. "The program's 20th anniversary provides the Auxiliary with the opportunity to recognize the many generous contributions of our valued donors, volunteers and supporters. Without them, this program would not be possible."

The Auxiliary will celebrate the Toy Closet program at its 61st annual meeting on Tuesday, September 17 at Anthony's Ocean View Restaurant where the theme of the evening will be "Toy Closets: 20 years — a million smiles." For more information or to donate, employees may contact the Auxiliary office at 688-5717 or auxiliary@ynhh.org.