Hospital employee makes children’s spirits bright in Park Ridge
Advocate Lutheran General hospital volunteer Jerry Oleksy pushes a crib filled with toys through the hallways of the hospital on Dec. 20. | Judy Fidkowski~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 21, 2012 4:56PM
PARK RIDGE — Jaxsen Chek flashed a wide grin when her mother showed her the hot pink guitar.
“My dad plays the guitar so she acts like she plays the guitar,” Ryan Jones said of her 16-month-old redhead.
Jones had been at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge with Chek since mid-November, and they likely wouldn’t be released until after the holidays, she said.
The new toy from a kind stranger arrived just at the right time.
“This has made our whole Christmas wonderful,” Jones said. “It’s fabulous.”
Hundreds of other toddlers and teens at the hospital on Dec. 20 had their spirits lifted by modern day Santa Claus Jessie Tendayi.
For the past three years Tendayi, a cafeteria employee at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, has put aside money from each paycheck to purchase playthings for kids.
Sad images on TV one day inspired Tendayi to do something locally to help improve children’s moods around the holidays.
“I thought, what could I do to make them feel better?” she said. “It suddenly came to me: how about toys?”
She shops around Thanksgiving to take advantage of sales. Since her car is not very large Tendayi makes multiple trips each day until she collects 600 toys. The entire first floor of her two-flat house on the South Side of Chicago is dedicated to storing the gifts.
“I wish I could buy more,” she acknowledged.
Tendayi does not have children of her own, but believes she has another calling.
“I wish I had kids, but God didn’t choose to give me any,” she said. “Instead he gave me these children to take care of, the hospital children.”
She now visits Advocate Children’s Hospital’s Park Ridge and Oak Lawn campuses annually to hand-deliver presents to patients.
On a morning just five days before Christmas she transformed a waiting room inside the Park Ridge hospital into a child’s paradise: stacks of Barbies, board games and more were there for the taking.
Some of the little patients suffer from severe flu-like symptoms, while others battle cancer and terminal diseases. Tendayi greeted every child with a smile and told them to pick whatever their hearts desired.
Chicago resident Jill Deferville held the hand of her son, Charlie, 3, as he tentatively approached the pile of presents. He took his time carefully scanning each item before settling on a Spiderman toy.
The young boy thanked Tendayi, who reciprocated with a hug.
Julia Montano, 11, of Oswego chose a scrapbook kit full of glittery butterfly stickers and stationary.
“It’s cool,” Montano said of the gift giving. “It makes (children) happy and makes them feel better because they’re in the hospital.”
Child Life Specialist Kelsey Lepp said hospital staff collaborate with Tendayi and others in the community to ensure that the youngest patients feel the spirit of the season while away from home.
“With this kind of generosity, not only can we make kids happy for Christmas, but I assume the toys will stay with (them) after that,” she said.
Laurie Mulvihill brought her six-year-old nephew Dylan Vega to meet Tendayi.
Vega was diagnosed last year with leukemia.
“His fight is my fight, too,” his aunt said. He left with a new miniature motorcycle.
“Go and enjoy, OK? Merry Christmas,” Tendayi told them.
A fund has been created to help Tendayi purchase additional toys. To donate visit advocatehealth.com, select “giving” for Advocate Trinity Hospital, and include “Jessie’s Toys” in the comments section.