DOUGLAS — Thanks to the help, support and generosity of others, the Hector Robles family of Douglas was able to pull off another successful “Christmas in July” annual toy drive last month that resulted in 600 new toys delivered to young patients at Tucson Medical Center.
Since the toy drive began nine years ago, the Robles’ have delivered more than 4,500 toys to TMC.
In July 2011 while celebrating his fifth birthday with his cousin, Debanny, Rene — who turned 15 this year —suffered a one-hour seizure and was immediately transported to TMC. Nurses and doctors administered numerous tests that revealed the seizure was due to an abnormal blood vessel on the right side of his brain.
Three days later, Rene woke and wanted to continue his birthday celebration. Unfortunately, this could not happen since his stay at TMC was extended for the next seven days. On the sixth day, TMC hospital staff provided Rene and his cousin a belated birthday celebration, giving them both presents and singing “Happy Birthday,” making Rene’s stay a little more special.
That special gesture by hospital staff sparked the idea for the toy drive. Now every July 30, which is Rene’s birthday, they deliver toys to TMC that are stored in a place called “Andrea’s Closet” and are distributed as needed to sick children at TMC. After the toys are distributed, the family celebrates Rene’s birthday.
“It never gets old,” Rene said. “I’m looking forward to next year because that will be our 10th year of doing this toy drive.”
Rene, who has been medically cleared by his doctors and is playing football for the Douglas High Bulldogs this year, said the past two years of dropping off toys at TMC have been different because of COVID. In previous years, the family went inside TMC to place toys inside “Andrea’s Closet.” But last year and this year, TMC staff instead met the family outside where the toys were turned over.
“We had to make sure everything was disinfected,” he said.
Rachel Robles, Hector’s older sister who is attending nursing school at Arizona State University, does what she can to help out from Tempe. This year she gathered some donations, which she then took to Tucson where she connected with her family for the distribution.
“I love that (so many) people helped out,” she said. “I liked that I was able to shop up here. There are so many options for toys, and I had no idea that the doctors I work with were going to donate toys.”
Lupita Robles, Rene’s mother, said the 600 toys they were able to purchase was a record for them. The previous high was 540 from last year.
She said the toy drive began slow, but at the last minute everybody came through once again.
“We actually had more than $1,500 donated to us,” she said. “Donations came in from all over. Considering all that is happening, the staff (at TMC) was in awe that we showed up with so many toys this year.”
Lupita said there was a stronger emphasis this year on toys for boys.
The family dropped off many different types of games, building kits, various types of action figures and cars, even a few kids-size guitars this year.
The staff from TMC shared a video with the Robles family, thanking them for their generosity.
“Every single year I can’t describe to you all how much joy these toys bring to children that are here,” said Jamie Antrim, a child life assistant for TMC. “These toys bring a smile to kiddos that are missing their homes, who aren’t feeling well. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything that you do and for your dedication and care. It is really appreciated.”
Lupita said if people still want to donate to the toy drive, they can, and the money will be used next year. People may call or text Lupita at 520-234-1660 or Hector Robles at 520-456-4819 for information. Donations can also be made through Zelle money transfer. Call 520-234-4517 or 520-234-1660.
“People have been so amazing,” Lupita said. “We’ve had so much support.”
Hector said this has been a project his wife and kids have taken upon themselves, and he is very proud when he looks back and sees the progress that has been made since this project first began.
“This has been such an amazing experience for all of us,” he said.