By JAYNE JACOVA FELD
Leading up to the winter holidays, the Jewish community enthusiastically embraced a campaign to provide toys to young patients unable to leave Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to celebrate Chanukah or Christmas.
Several local synagogues and Jewish communal organizations agreed to be drop-off points for Holton’s Heroes, a Los Angeles-based charity with local connections that primarily supports families of children with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The non-profit named in honor of Holton Weinreb, the nephew of Marlton resident Lauren Levine, collected more than 3,000 toys for hospital-bound sick children.
“This community was wonderful,” said Levine, a M’kor Shalom congregant who spearheaded the campaign with her children Haley, 13, and Sam, 11. “The support blew me away.”
Through the toy drive, many South Jersey residents first learned the heart-breaking story of Holton, who was just 11 months old when, under the care of his nanny, he suffered a severe head injury and stopped breathing. Given CPR and fully revived by the time he was rushed to the hospital, the baby sustained extensive brain damage. Going on three in the fall, Holton and his family still face a difficult journey. He will never speak, isn’t able to hold his head up and, although his eyes are healthy, can’t see because of the brain damage, explained Levine, who is the sister of Holton’s father Eric.
“He’s sweet; he’s handsome but he isn’t able to do a lot,” said Levine.
Holton was in and out of hospitals during that first year. Nonetheless, the family started Holton’s Heroes to mark the anniversary of the accident.
“We all just wanted to take the day back,” she said. “My brother and sister-in-law wanted to help children like Holton.”
The organization is bi-coastal, holding an annual gala in LA. Here in South Jersey, Levine organized a walk in Ventnor and has another one planned for Aug. 26. So far, in its two years of existence, Holton’s Heroes has provided specialized equipment and support to the families of nine children who suffered TBI post-birth.
The toy drive, she explained, is not related to the general fundraising activities but is something extra. The family was inspired after spending the holidays three years ago in an LA hospital with Holton. A group of fire fighters, with one dressed as Santa Claus, gave presents to Holton’s older sister. It was the first time anyone smiled since the fateful accident.
“It was a moment of normalcy,” recalled Levine. “It was such a little gesture and so silly, but it was a really amazing movement. I decided I wanted to do this for the East Coast.”
The first toy drive was two years ago. Local Jewish organizations were very receptive to helping out.
“In the first year, I thought we would have three boxes, ended up with 50,” she said.
Haley, who was in her bat mitzvah year, also held a dance class at Jazz Unlimited for children with disabilities.
The second drive, this past season, was even larger. Participants from the Jewish community including Cong. M’kor Shalom, Cong. Beth El, Temple Emanuel, the Katz JCC and Kellman Brown Academy.
“When something like this happens, it changes every part of your life forever,” she said. “The heartbreak doesn’t go away. There have been extreme highs and extreme lows. But my brother and sister-in-law are the most unbelievable humans in the world. They are dealing with a tragedy beyond tragedy and yet their mission has become helping kids like Holton.”
For more information, visit http://www.holtonsheroes.org