Summer is a busy time for Tina Richardson.
The Metro Vancouver mom spends a lot of time going up and down the toy aisles at her local Walmart, preparing for a very special day that comes each September.
“The other customers watching were like ‘Oh my gosh there’s not going to be any toys left,” she told Global News of her most recent shopping trip.
For the past seven years, Richardson has helped donate more than 10,000 brand new toys for kids in the oncology department at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver as part of toy drive in her son’s name.
Sean Thomas lost his battle with leukemia in 2015 at the age of seven. He was overwhelmed by all the gifts at his final birthday party outside the oncology ward, attended by more than 200 people.
“He said, ‘Mommy look at all these toys, but it’s too much. I’d like to share them with my friends,'” Richardson recalled. “I said, ‘Sure honey, what would you like to do?’
“He said, ‘I’d like to deliver them to my friends in the hospital.'”
It’s precisely what the family did and has kept doing every year in Sean’s memory on his birthday — Sept. 24. Sean’s Gift of Sharing is now in the midst of fundraising for its seventh annual toy drive.
It even managed to hold a successful drive at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing their campaign online with a GoFundMe page for the very first time.
“Every bereaved parent, their biggest fear is people forgetting their child, forgetting who they were,” Richardson explained.
Given the reach of Sean’s legacy, however, it seems unlikely.
“Parents send me pictures of their kids holding up the toys. They’re overjoyed,” said Richardson.
She said Lego was always Sean’s personal favourite, and a week before he passed away, a couple of very generous donors gifted Sean with an all-expenses paid trip to Legoland in California.
“He never really stopped smiling,” said Richardson. “It was the happiest time of his life.”
After family and friends drop the toys off at the hospital on Sept. 24, Richardson said they usually go to Sean’s grave.
“It’s his birthday so I get a little Lego birthday cake and place it on his gravesite,” she said.
“Happy Birthday kiddo, we did this for you again. We love you and we’re going to keep your memory alive by doing this for a long long time.”