One chilly day around the holidays in 2012, East Islip resident Michael Kenney and his two friends slipped into their go-to restaurant: Maxwell’s, on Main Street in Islip.
While inside, the trio noticed that a drop-box requesting gifts for Toys for Tots was completely empty. It prompted the group to visit a nearby Toys-R-Us and grab presents for kids for the drop-off, Kenney said.
Over some drinks at Maxwell’s, the group started chatting with longtime employee Theresa Kleine, also a therapist at Brookside Multicare Nursing Center in Smithtown. She told them about the facility, where she works to provide stimulation for terminally-ill children and emotional support for the families.
While many larger hospitals and institutions get donations around the holidays, Kleine said, smaller organizations are often overlooked. It was the impetus for the now-annual donation campaign operated by Kenney, Kleine and her longtime friend, Brittany Chappas. Now in its eighth year, the Adopt-A-Child campaign will take place Dec. 20 to ensure that each child at Brookside has a gift this holiday season.
Some of the children at Brookside – ages 2 to 22 – have genetic abnormalities, gunshot wounds, rare genetic diseases and other illnesses. Many are immobile and some are in hospice care.
“Our kids are really medically fragile,” Kleine, of Islip hamlet, said. “Some of them come from poor families, and many of them are on ventilators. Many can’t go out to school.”
In years past, a gift-wrapping “party” took place at Maxwell’s, where donors would gather to wrap gifts before they were sent over to the center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kleine has asked donors to drop off gifts at the restaurant on Dec. 20.
Most of the donations come from Islip Town residents, Kleine said, who is involved with the Islip Breast Cancer Coalition and has participated in the town’s annual Miles of Hope 5K run.
Chappas, a special education teacher in Port Washington who was also involved in the Miles of Hope run, joined the donation effort roughly six years ago. She first met Kleine while co-hosting an Islip School District fundraiser at Maxwell’s.
Despite their illnesses, Kleine said, the children have very simple requests: many ask for a bar of soap, or deodorant. Chappas said she was brought to tears when she first saw the kids’ wishlists.
“You just want to give them the childhood Christmas that you reminisce about,” Chappas said.
Kenney said while this year is unlike others due to the pandemic, he’s still eager to help out.
“They’re going through a tough time, and it’s something to brighten their day,” Kenney said. “It’ll be a little different, but in the end, as long as the kids are happy and they have a good day, that’s all that matters.”
Seeing the joy from the kids, Kleine said, brings her back to a sense of reality.
“I don’t do this for me, I do this for them, because they’re so appreciative of the little things in life that it just makes you appreciate everything in your own life,” she said.
Those interested in contributing can contact Kleine, Kenney or Chappas via Facebook.com. Any donation is appreciated.