Location: Duarte, Calif.
In December 2003, Ryan Russek’s father Ron was told he had kidney cancer, a diagnosis that led the Russek family to spend countless hours in the hospital during the next two years. Throughout those visits, they watched pediatric patients suffer through chemotherapy and radiation, just as Ron had endured. As Christmas approached, Russek, a senior buyer at Carmax (No. 232), decided to give toys to all the children who were too sick to be released from the hospital for the holiday. “I could see the kids getting super excited with joy,” says Russek. They resolved to deliver the presents every December, but in 2005, just hours before the father and son were scheduled to make their toy rounds in the cancer ward, Ron passed away. Despite his grief, Russek still went to the hospital with his presents that afternoon – this time accompanied by his mother.
Since then, Russek has continued to deliver toys to the City of Hope Cancer Research Hospital each Christmas, but with the help of his church, CarMax, local businesses and volunteers, his efforts have grown. The toy drive, which Russek has named Wish Upon a Toy, now collects so many extra gifts that he opens a pop-up toy “store” in the hospital a few weeks before Christmas so that adult patients, who are often too sick to leave or too burdened with medical bills to afford gifts, can get free presents for their children. Says Russek, “It’s really cool to be a part of something like that, to help people in a really bad spot have some sort of normalcy.”