Local girl collects more than 11,000 toys for Riley Hospital

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — More than 11,000 toys were collected in a single drive. It wasn’t a group or a business that collected them. It was a child and she wasn’t collecting for herself. She was collecting to give to kids at Riley Children’s Hospital.

We first introduced you to 11-year-old Gracie Bennett of Danville last month. She started this annual drive when she was in kindergarten. Gracie doesn’t want Riley kids to feel alone or unloved, especially on Christmas, because she was one in their shoes.

Whoever said one person can make a difference, must’ve been talking about Gracie, “This year we’ve gone big and decided to go for 5,000.”

She didn’t just meet her goal. She exceeded it. Altogether, Gracie helped collected 11,219 toys, “It’s pretty amazing. I love how people decide to help. A shout out to all these kids who have decided to break open their piggy banks and buy a toy.”

Much of the motivation to give came from Gracie’s personal story. A Riley kid herself, at just 3-years-old she underwent surgery to remove a soft ball sized tumor on her brain. Gracie was still undergoing chemo therapy in kindergarten when she asked her principal if she would help her with a toy drive.

Gracie’s mom Stephanie Bennett calls her daughter a miracle baby, “She makes me very proud. She was put here for a reason. She’s touched a lot of lives.”

In the past six years of organizing drives, Gracie has collected more than 5,000 toys. This year, she worked extra hard, setting up 50 collection boxes throughout the state and even getting large donation from Kohls. She was able to collect more this year, than all six years combined.

“When somebody like Gracie comes along with such a compelling story and compelling personality, it’s easy for people to give back to her. She’s done a great job with it,” said Riley Children’s Foundation Laura Buckner.

The toy drives have led Riley to name her the 2018 Riley Champion, where she serves as an ambassador for the Riley Children’s Foundation. But for Gracie, it’s not about the recognition.

“It makes me feel really good inside because seeing these kids light up with joy, and now they’re thinking that there’s actually a friend in the hospital with them that has gone through the exact same thing,” she said.

Since her first surgery, Gracie has undergone two others. A recent MRI revealed no abnormalities. So, her goal next year is to collect 15,000 to 20,000 toys.

The Riley Children’s Foundation is always in need of donations. If you’d like to help out, or to learn more about what they do, click here.