Ashley Irvine laughs fondly at the memory of her son Blake lighting up at the sight of his favourite toy.
His dad, Sean Rowdon, brought the gift – a talking Fisher Price dog – home and Blake “loved it” so much more than the organic items Irvine typically picked out for her happy, ever-smiling baby boy.
“He would just go crazy,” she said.
But the dog is not amongst a stand of Blake’s items that the South Surrey couple continues to hold dear, nearly 18 months after he died at BC Children’s Hospital from post-operative complications of heart surgery, when he was just eight months old.
“That toy, specifically, is in his crib,” Irvine said.
Fittingly, the joy of toys is part of Blake’s legacy, through a drive that Irvine began last year then expanded on as a way to give back to the hospital. The family first collected toys for BCCH the Christmas before Blake passed away, as an unofficial way to say thank you for the care he had received to that point for a congenital heart defect.
“He was just so little and we just wanted to do something to give back,” she explained.
After Blake died, Irvine put the word out on Facebook that she and Rowdon were collecting toys in his memory, and the response was heartwarming – with help from local business owner Lacey Kelly, more than 400 items were rounded up, filling a company van to the hilt.
Kelly, who is president of Floor Envy Supply and Renovations, said she offered to function as a drop-off location for donations after ‘meeting’ Irvine through the Facebook group.
“She had a living room full of toys, so I just offered to drive them down (to BCCH),” Kelly said. “I just saw a lot of people asking for pick-ups, and I thought, oh man, that’s going to take a lot of time.
“My heart really goes out to her, losing her son,” Kelly continued. “I’m a parent and I can’t imagine how awful that would be. My little mom heartstrings were tugged.”
With donations already piling up this year, Kelly is hoping one of her business’s larger trucks will be needed when it comes time to deliver the toys.
She said she’s seen the benefits of such gifts firsthand, when her son Carter was in hospital last November. On a particularly difficult day, with a blown IV and multiple pokes, the then-seven-year-old was “inconsolable” – until a nurse brought him a Lego set from the hospital’s toy room. It “made such a big difference on a hard day… just having someone show up with a toy,” Kelly said.
Irvine said the toy drive for her has proven therapeutic.
“Child loss is a very difficult thing. For six months (after Blake died), I stayed at home all day. I decided to do this toy drive, I had to now get out and meet people. It forced me to get up and do something,” she said.
“Then, I wanted to keep it going for Blake. The kids at the children’s hospital deserve it and the parents deserve to also have that stress taken off of them, to know that there’s toys around the corner for them.”
She noted that virtually everyone she has met through the toy drive has a connection to BC Children’s Hospital, “and if they hadn’t been (there)… you’re just so thankful you’ve never had to go there.”
Irvine said while “every day is a struggle,” she and Rowdon are now looking forward to welcoming Blake’s baby brother. They will “never” pass on an opportunity to share Blake’s story and word of the toy drive, she added.
“It’s in memory of him. There’s not a lot we can do for him now, but we can carry on his memory and his little legacy,” she said. “This is just one way that we can do it.”
Donations of new, unwrapped toys for Blake’s Toy Drive may be dropped off at Floor Envy, 11-15531 24 Ave., between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The drive wraps up Dec. 3.
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