Nearly two years ago a meat cutter at a local Hy-Vee started a mission for the kids.
Nathan Bird is active in many local causes for animals, the homeless and veterans.
But the tools of kids play he brings to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital are leaving some of the most profound impacts.
It’s after being inspired by their stories and the simple but power Hawkeye Wave.
Organizer Nathan Bird said, “Gavin. His mom reached out to me. All of us at Hy-Vee know who Gavin is. He has cystic fibrosis.”
The impact of Nathan Bird’s mission can be seen in one little shopper.
Bird said, “He truly is an inspiration. He has more energy than most of us.”
When Nathan held a toy drive in early 2018 for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, guess who showed up.
“What he’s going through, he wanted to help out those kids as well,” said Bird. “Even though it’s for kids like him.”
Hosting a toy drive has always been in the back of his mind.
Bird said, “I just got some toys and had this idea and I made this huge impact on somebody I’ve never even met.”
At his Hy-Vee on Utica Ridge and 53rd, it looked more like he worked in a toy store than a grocery.
Bird said, “Doing the toy drive, it was hard not to play with the toys.”
That’s because of the scale of altruism for the kids blew him away.
Bird said, “Standing in the semi-trailer it was just non-stop people bringing toys.”
It was overwhelming the Children’s Hospital told him it was a little too much generosity en masse.
“They said Nate, we can’t take all these toys,” Bird recalled.
The toys went into storage, his basement and those of friends.
“I probably filled four houses where I had toys at,” he said.
He continues making the trip to Iowa City as his schedule allows with toys from the January 2018 drive.
Bird said, “I could probably keep going for another six months.”
One carload at a time.
Bird said, “Drop off toys to the hospital, go next door, throw a pizza night for the families at the Ronald McDonald House.”
He added, “When we do something good, go above the call of duty, we get a free pizza card [from Hy-Vee]. I always donate my free pizza cards. I’ve never had a pizza myself. Just to do random acts of kindness whether it be to volunteers at the animal shelter, homeless shelter.”
Nathan also takes along gift cards to the Ronald McDonald House to provide additional support to parents.
“You don’t realize how far a gas card at the Ronald McDonald House. Those families don’t know. They could think they’re going up for a day and they could be there for two weeks, two months,” said Bird. “Something as small as a toothbrush. It’s those little things you forget at home or think you don’t need and it’s one less thing they have to worry about and it means so much to them. You don’t realize the good that you’re doing until you actually hear from them.”
It was a friend Nathan say first gave him insights into a young life in the hospital.
Bird said, “I had a friend growing up who he wasn’t expected to live two weeks, two months, and he kept fighting and passed away in Sept. 2009. His name is Jeremy Scannell.”
The perseverance Jeremy showed is what left a profound impact.
Bird said, “Throughout his whole life, he never complained about what he was going through until the day he died.”
His strength pushing Nathan to bring smiles to kids at Stead.
Bird said, “Playing with a toy, hopefully, it keeps their mind occupied.”
Giving kids like Gavin something they can hold onto for strength.
Bird said, “He’s battled and battled and battled and that past couple of months he’s been doing really well.”
That keeps him going because there are more kids to cheer up.
Bird said, “Gavin thinks I’m a superhero. It’s flattering but I’m anything but.”
But aren’t those the heroes to look up to.
Nathan still collects toys just on a much smaller scale.
Once the current supply is exhausted, he said he’ll look at another toy drive.
If people want to help out the effort, they can reach him Facebook, Instagram or visit him at the store, but ask that people not drop off toys while he’s working.
People can also follow along with his efforts on the Toy Drive Facebook page.
Nathan hopes to host a pizza party with Carson King in the near future and in the spring be joined by Hawkeye football players to drop off the toys.