Eight-year-old Cancer Survivor Pays it Forward with Toy Drive

Dec. 4,  2020

By SUSAN MINUK

In January 2019, eight-year-old Ethan Hayes became part of the Chai Lifeline Canada family when he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumour that had spread to his spine. Ethan went through four brain surgeries, travelled to Memphis, Tenn. for 30 proton radiation treatments, and endured months of chemotherapy.

Ethan Hayes at Toy Drop Off

One year ago, Ethan received his last round of chemotherapy treatment at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. Today, he is cancer free.

“Every day when Ethan was sick in the hospital, Chai Lifeline Canada brought him a toy, which would light up his day and make the treatment easier,” said Cindi Shoot, Ethan’s mother. “Now it’s our time to give back.”

So on Nov. 1, Ethan, his mom and sister, Chloe, started a toy drive. The goal was to collect 365 toys for every day that Ethan was going through treatment, his mother explained.

The family received an outpouring of love far exceeding their goal: Some 500 toys and gift cards were donated across the country and from as far as the United States.

“Some people mailed gift cards and others sent money. Some donated directly to Chai Lifeline in honour of Ethan,” said Shoot. “Every gift counted, from the Amazon man who donated, to my childhood cancer mamas, dance crew, work friends, Facebook friends and our friends and family.”

She took kids on a shopping spree at ToysRUs. “I told them to get whatever they think kids in the hospital would want. They were so happy and grateful to give back.”

On Dec. 1 – “Giving Tuesday” – Ethan, Chloe and their mother delivered the 500 gifts to Chai Lifeline’s office on Wilson Ave. in North York.

“We had no idea Ethan and his family were going to do this,” said Mordechai Rothman, the group’s executive director. “It’s heartwarming when families turn around and do things like that.”

The organization traditionally runs its toy drive at schools and offices. “People are still being generous, but the opportunities to fulfill their generosity are not as prevalent due to the pandemic,” Rothman pointed out.

There’s a toy bin outside Chai Lifeline’s office to allow for drop-offs, he noted. “We welcome gift cards for the 14+ kids. They seem to prefer iTunes cards.”

Founded in Toronto 13 years ago and dedicated to alleviating the burden of those facing medical challenges, Chai Lifeline Canada has nearly 600 volunteers helping more than 2,000 family members. When Ethan got sick, he was matched with 25-year-old Kevin Heymann, his Chai Big Brother. Kevin was at Ethan’s side throughout his yearlong treatment, playing with him, providing a shoulder to lean on, and offering a break to his mom. Now during COVID, the support continues. Chai Lifeline delivered video consoles to them both, so they can play games online a few times a week.

Kevin Heymann and Ethan Hayes (right)

“The role is never over. I am a life friend,” said Heymann. “To realize how much Ethan has been through and how little he dwells on it…he’s so positive.”

Chai Lifeline Canada’s 14th annual holiday toy drive is for the more than 400 children and families currently in the organization’s care. 

The organization collects toys year-round and also provides them to the siblings of sick children. It believes that when a child is born or diagnosed with a serious illness, the entire family is affected.

Donations can be made in person or at ChaiLifelineCanada.org and on Amazon.