Teresa Ray: The Woman Who Runs Riley’s Toy Room

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Teresa Ray's journey as a Riley Toy Room volunteer.

Nineteen years ago, an ad in a newspaper changed Teresa Ray’s life. “I saw an advertisement for the Ronald McDonald House and immediately thought, ‘they serve the patients of Riley so I’d like to give back and volunteer,’” Teresa explains.

Intrigued, it wasn’t long before Teresa visited Riley to learn more. “While there, I met a woman who volunteered at Riley and she took me to my first meeting.

That first meeting was for Riley’s toy room. At the time, Teresa had planned to simply attend board meetings for the hospital’s program, but within a month she had begun to take off one day a week to volunteer in Riley’s toy room. Last year, she was appointed the position of ‘Toy Room Chair.’

And what about the Ronald McDonald House? “I volunteered at both places for about 13 years, but six years ago, I stopped volunteering with Ronald McDonald house to spend more time with my grandchildren on the weekends and transferred to two days at Riley,” she says.

Teresa’s role in the toy room is essential. It’s a massive operation. Why? Toys are available to all children staying at Riley, but due to the size and amount of items available, it’s very rare that a child actually visits the toy room – it’s too overwhelming. Staff will usually ask a child what they like and then come pick out a toy for the child. Other times, children come to the hospital via ambulance or through an accident and their favorite blanket or toy was destroyed. The staff will make a specific request, and the toy room volunteers will search for something as close to the item as possible, often matching it exactly.

“The toy room staff purchase toys and accept all donations that come into the hospital,” Teresa explains. “We work closely with the Child Life staff and the hospital to make sure they have the items available that they would like to use for distraction or interaction with the patient. We make sure that everything is safe, according to the regulations of the state and the hospital – they all must be packaged individually to give to one child.”

Keeping the toy room well stocked requires lots of planning and time – Teresa is at the hospital every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Each month, Teresa distributes a wish list to various groups and individuals who regularly donate toys and also purchases items through the toy room budget. All items are tracked on a spreadsheet as they distribute approximately 10,000 toys and handmade gifts each month. At the end of the month, Teresa reviews the spreadsheet to see what needs to be restocked.

“We pay attention to toys that are trending and what our patients are asking for,” says Teresa. “Right now, two popular items are Shopkins figurines and Trolls. Anything Disney is always popular, especially when a new movie comes out. And, we have consistent items that children always like to have available, such as journals so they can write down what’s happening while they are in the hospital.”

Most of the toy room volunteers stay in the room during their shift, rarely interacting with patients. But in 2004, Teresa’s granddaughter became a patient and Teresa had the opportunity to see Riley from the other side.

“I saw how caring the staff and doctors were to my granddaughter,” Teresa remembers. “They made sure that she was doing well, she received the treatments she needed and understood everything. I also got to see what it was like for her to receive a toy gift and how much it meant to her. She felt awful being sick and weak, but she was able to smile and experience some joy by receiving the gift. It gave me a totally new appreciation for Riley.”

Teresa, who is now 64 years old and lives in Greenwood, enjoys spending time with her two daughters and five grandchildren, and participating in bible studies. She also loves to travel and visits Disney World often, always bringing back toys as donations to the hospital.

“I really enjoy what I do,” says Teresa. “I continue to be impressed by the staff at Riley. They are caring, supportive and talented people. And, I’ve developed lifelong friendships with many of the volunteers. It’s been a blessing.”

-- By Gia Miller

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