Editor’s note: The Rachel Baker Memorial Toy Drive begins today, Aug. 20, and runs through Sept. 16. What follows is a story about the drive, which collects toys for donation to Akron Children’s Hospital’s Boardman location, and how you can contribute to it.
Undergoing cancer treatment has never been described as fun, but Rachel Baker didn’t let it keep her from trying to make other people smile.
Whether she was using her portable IV pole as a skateboard, impersonating Jim Carrey or “swimming” past a bank of windows on a walk around the hospital, she kept her sense of humor as she battled the leukemia that eventually took her life.
“Man, she was strong,” marveled her mother, Judy Haun Baker of Brookfield.
Rachel died Oct. 11, 2010, eight days shy of her 22nd birthday. Since then, her parents have been on a mission to mirror that strength and continue their daughter’s quest to make people – in particular, children – smile. Judy and Bruce Baker hold a toy drive each year with the proceeds going to Akron Children’s Hospital’s Boardman location.
Although Rachel was treated at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, the family chose ACH because it is closer, serves children and is a”great facility,” Judy Baker said.
Rachel idolized Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, the doctor portrayed by Robin Williams on film, who believes that laughter and joy are part of the healing process. She shared that belief and wanted to continue that approach as a pediatric oncology nurse.
“She felt it was important to walk into a patient’s room and be happy,” Judy Baker said. “The basis of our toy drive is to make sick children happy.”
The first toy drive was held at Rachel’s funeral, when the family asked people to bring toys instead of sending flowers.
“We had three carloads,” Bruce Baker said. “Every year since then, it’s grown more and more.”
The Bakers have set a goal of having so many toys that they have to rent a box truck to carry them all. Last year, they filled three SUVs and two pickups.
The toys must be new so the recipients, who already are sick, don’t pick up anything from them, Judy Baker said..
The message about the toy drive is generally spread through Facebook, word of mouth and posters, and at Claudia and Company Styling Salon, Hermitage, where Judy Baker works.
People who know about the drive will shop after-Christmas and other sales for toys and the Bakers collect them all year long.
Sometimes, bags of toys appear on their doorstep with no indication as to who brought them.
The Bakers also accept monetary donations and go shopping.
“We do several shopping trips, which are actually a lot of fun,” Judy Baker said.
Bruce Baker noted the manager of Big Lots in Niles, Tony Vaccaro, has been a big supporter.
“He opened the store for us (early), so we can shop and not have anyone around,” Bruce Baker said of last year.
The couple buys “every type of toy we can find,” he said, including coloring books, Lego sets, dolls, books, sports items and, for older kids – the hardest to shop for – wireless headsets, watches, blankets and DVDs.
“I like getting things that are crafty, things that they have to work on,” Judy Baker said.
The Bakers are not the only people collecting toys for ACH, but, “When we deliver, they have nothing,” Judy Baker said.
Most donations come in around Christmastime, but there is a need all year long, she said.
“From wall to wall, we load up the room,” Judy Baker said.
The Bakers will make their next trip to ACH in late September, just ahead of Rachel’s Oct. 19 birthday.
“She would love it,” Judy Baker said of her daughter’s reaction to the toy drive. “It would make her so happy.”
HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE:
To donate to the Rachel Baker Memorial Toy Drive, drop off toys at the Baker home at 7297 Northview Drive, Brookfield; or at Claudia and Company Styling Salon, 2210 E. State St., Hermitage. The drive runs through Sept. 16. Monetary donations can be made at any Huntington Bank branch to the Rachel Baker Memorial Fund.