A Conversation with our Q3 Community Partner, Mason’s Toy Box
Kelley Kassay and Jessica Kassay-McAllister of Mason’s Toy Box Foundation spoke with Maggie Chao and Megan Taub from Eastwood about how it all started, what their organization has accomplished over the last eleven years, the challenges they faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how they continually strive to fill in the gaps for families in ways that many other organizations don’t. Finally, we learned more about what Mason’s Toy Box needs and how the community can continue to get involved with the organization.
Interview Took Place: June 13, 2022
How It All Started
The mission of Mason’s Toy Box is to ameliorate the myriad of challenges that families face when a child is diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Founded by sisters whose family suffered the loss of Mason, beloved son and nephew, Mason’s Toy Box began 11 years ago as a holiday toy drive that grew into the organization that it is today.
Maggie: Can you tell us a little bit about the community that you serve?
Kelley: The community that we serve – we lend support through gifting and advocacy to families who have been impacted by childhood illness and injury. Regardless of their financial status. A lot of families have a need, true needs, basic needs, and sometimes it’s a wish. It could be a big wish or a simple wish to improve a child’s quality of life. Mason passed away from cancer, but it is not just kids with cancer that we serve. Everyone thinks we just serve cancer kids and that’s not true. We lend support to families who are impacted by other childhood illnesses and injury. We also lend support to siblings.
Maggie: Can you talk about the evolution of the organization?
Jessica: We had a friend who approached my sister. It was six months after Mason had passed away and they said, “Why don’t we do a toy drive?” At first, we thought, we don’t want to do that. We didn’t know how we would handle our grief. But, we decided to do it, and it turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. We were able to channel all of our grief into helping others. So we continued that mission. We continued to push forward. So, it started with a simple toy drive and then turned into a much more robust toy drive the next year.
Jessica: Very complex. We had multiple facilities that we were serving during that time and then we started adopting families who we were serving and then we began to work in birthdays and basic needs and then it became more of a social working network where social workers were referring families to us for help with basic needs like Kelley talked about – such as a family doesn’t have a car to transfer their kids from point A to point B to get them the care they need. So we were able to grow this over the years and then with the funding that we were funneling through our organization we became a 501(c)(3) and we just continued to grow.
Needs, Wishes, & Advocacy
Mason’s Toy Box has built a legacy and grown in recognition over the last eleven years. Social workers refer families to Mason’s Toy Box at the hospital. Others hear about it through volunteers and by word of mouth. Some find their website. In talking to the founders of Mason’s Toy Box Foundation, it is clearly apparent that they help families at times and in ways that other organizations can’t or don’t. They are filling the gaps for many families who may otherwise not be able to get assistance from other organizations.
Maggie: Can you tell me how you find folks in need or how they find you?
Kelley: We are moving into our 11th year. Mason will be gone 11 years next Monday. We are now well known enough that social workers refer families to us in the hospital. We have a community who refer people to us. Our volunteers send people back to us. People see us on TV and then they’ll come to us. We’ve earned a bit of a reputation that Mason’s Toy Box will help you when other organizations can’t – many of the well-known programs are based on financial need so they can only help families falling below the poverty line, which, unfortunately, misses a lot of families who do have a financial need. Families who are losing time at work, have mounting medical bills, and now have increased travel expenses, need help even though they are not falling under the poverty line.
Challenges Presented By Covid-19
Similar to our conversation with Meals on Wheels last quarter, sheltering at home wasn’t new for many of the families served by Mason’s Toy Box. However, Mason’s Toy Box, like everyone, faced new challenges during the pandemic. They had to get creative with how they continued to provide resources and aid to families with immunocompromised children. They persevered and they were able to grant every wish they received over the last two years. Additionally, families said that Mason’s Toy Box was an organization that they could trust throughout the pandemic. Families could bring their kids to an event knowing that it would be well organized and safe. Truly remarkable work by Kelley, Jessica, and Mason’s Toy Box volunteers!
Kelley: There is a lot going on behind the scenes that you aren’t necessarily seeing on our Facebook page or on our website. We host a lot of events that cater to our demographic. We have a lot of children who are immunosuppressed who have to quarantine. Now everyone has a little taste of that because of Covid, but for these children that is what their life is like when they’re sick.
Of course with Covid, we couldn’t visit anyone and had to get creative because we’ve collected tangibles for 9 years and so we had to pivot to asking for money in order to make sure that these families actually had gifts for Christmas. The hospitals would only accept new packages so we couldn’t just drop off toys or do a toy drive because of strict rules to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, which meant we had to buy everything brand new. It was challenging, but we were able to get every wish granted over the past two years.
Jessica: Kelley came up with the genius idea to keep Christmas, Easter, and all of these wonderful holidays going for these kids. We had these events where Santa or the Easter Bunny were in globes and we were able to host these events with high showings all the while following Covid rules, regulations, and best practices.
How Mason’s Toy Box Operates
Mason’s Toy Box is run completely by volunteers. They have around 400 volunteers and no paid staff. It is pretty amazing how much they do. Knowing a bit more about how many calls and inquiries they get a week, the ways that they provide advocacy and support, and how much of a commitment they make to be with a family through their entire journey, you would expect that they would have a sizable full time staff. It truly is a testament to the incredible work of the foundation’s volunteers and Kelley and Jessica’s leadership and dedication to helping families.
Maggie: How many people do you have on staff and how many volunteers do you have?
Jessica: We don’t have any staff.
Kelley: We have 400 volunteers registered and we have no paid staff.
Kelley: A lot of our recipients become volunteers, so that’s probably why we don’t have a huge need for volunteers at this time. We do want to expand our board, we do want to create a planning committee, we do want to continue to grow.
Maggie: I think that is a good thing to put out into the universe and I hope that this draws attention to that need for folks that read this and that it’s helpful.
What Mason’s Toy Box Needs
Mason’s Toy Box relies on donations to continue to do what they do – donations can take the form of monetary gifts or other forms such as gas cards, toys, wishlist items, and more. They have a dedicated network of volunteers, but they need a few volunteers to help with volunteer coordination, fundraising, administration, and community outreach.
Maggie: How can people who are reading this get involved? I’m sure you have multiple areas of need, but what would be the most important areas of need?
Kelley: Monetary donations. Lately we have been getting a lot of requests for gas cards, a lot of requests for meals, and a lot of other true basic needs.
Jessica: I agree, monetary donations are high on the priorities. I think another thing that we need is volunteers to help with volunteer coordination and to help with the fundraising administration.
Kelley: And, help with community outreach. One of the things that I do too – one of the things we need – is information on the resources and organizations that are out there helping families right now. That way when families come to us, I can send them to these other organizations who are already doing it.
Megan: Is there ever a situation where you get a wish or you have a need and you are unable to fill it?
Kelley: Yes. There are many times where a wish comes through that is challenging to fulfill…I will call and ask for a donation. I will work hard to bargain. We can sometimes raise money on Facebook for a specific wish, but there are many families that don’t want to be public. So, the community often helps meet those needs or we’ll get a donation from a company for the item they are requesting.
This one family today is requesting gas cards. They are fighting to get their newborn child out of a hospital that is not equipped to care for the child and they are being completely ignored. That’s where we can say “let’s be their voice. Let’s reach out to the powers that be and ask them to help this family.” Otherwise, we’ll help them get to the news stations. We do advocacy all the time constantly. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do.
Maggie: That is amazing. You guys are so tenacious. Can you share a few of your favorite moments from working with Mason’s Toy Box?
Jessica: With my nephew, Mason’s, passing, you can imagine there were ramifications to our children as well, specifically his sister and my children that were very close to him. One of the most joyful things out of this whole process with Mason’s Toy Box is watching them engage and give back and heal through it. That’s been a really impactful thing for me and it makes me tearful every time. It’s all of the children we serve.
Maggie: I think you have done such a great job of painting a better picture for us of everything you really do. At a glance it may seem like you are just giving out toys and that in and of itself is incredible, but it’s obvious that you are covering way more ground than that.
If you would like to donate to Mason’s Toy Box Foundation, visit their website:
Or, donate at Eastwood through the end of September.
When you visit our tasting rooms through the end of September, you also will have an opportunity to round up the cents on your bill or donate an amount of your choosing. All donations go directly to Mason’s Toy Box Foundation. Thank you for your support!