|Local couple working to bring a smile to kids hospitalized on Christmas|
Christmas is a special holiday for young ones and even for those young at heart. Kids wake up, usually before the sun comes up, anxious to see what Santa has left for them. Many kids wait and wait for Santa and finally fall asleep on Christmas Eve just to dream about Christmas morning.
For some kids, Christmas is just another day in the hospital battling for their lives. The scenario of being in the hospital is tough, being there for Christmas is almost heartbreaking. A local couple is working to stop the heartbreak and bring a smile to the faces of the little patients.
Matt and Christina Reister have spent their last four Christmas Days delivering presents to children at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville.
The Charlestown couple have hosted the “Direct Link to a Smile” Toy Drive for the past four years in honor and memory of their two year old son, Joseph Lynn Reister. The toddler lost his battle on October 16, 2011.
“He was born at 25 weeks. He had problems from being a preemie. He had lung problems and liver failure. He received a liver transplant but he still had problems,” Matt explained.
He continued, “This is a way we can honor him. There is no bad angle. This is a win-win.”
The Reisters spend their Christmas day delivering new, non-toxic toys to the floors where Joseph received care and treatment during his hospital stays. Toys are delivered to the transplant floor at Riley’s and the NICU at Kosair’s.
“We pass out the toys room-to-room on the floor Joseph was always on, the transplant floor at Riley’s. The toys we have left the nurses give to other floors and then we take some to Kosair. The NICU gets stuffed animals and blankets,” Matt added.
Christina continued, “There are usually around 90 kids in the NICU. They get small stuffed animals and tie blankets and hats. I would love to have 100 blankets this year, but any donation is going to be great.”
She added, “We are in Indy by 8 in the morning. We are able to pass the toys outs. We see the difference this makes.”
Matt continued, “The parents are stuck at the hospital. A lot of the time, not only do they not have time to shop, they are staying at the hospital with their kid and not working. A lot of the time there is not any money for presents. We see the smile put on the kids’ faces. We only spend a few minutes in the room to deliver the toy, but it only takes a few minutes to make a kid smile. It makes it worth it.”
Not only do the patient receive some Christmas presents, but so do all the siblings. The Reisters make sure not to leave any kid out that is tied to the hospital on Christmas Day.
“All siblings also get something. Last year we had enough toys to give every kid multiple toys and their siblings. We were even able to leave some toys for the toy rooms at the hospitals. It was such a great thing,” Matt added. “No matter how big or small the donation, all are great!”
The Reisters are now collecting toys for the Direct Link to a Smile Toy Drive. Toys need to be new and non-toxic.
“We just have to have them new and non-toxic due to health reasons. We cannot accept used toys for sanitary reasons going into the hospital,” Matt explained.
The toy drive, now in its fifth year, will continue through Christmas Eve. A toy drop box will be located at The Leader Office located at 382 Main Cross Street in Charlestown and the McDonald’s located at 13615 Blue Lick Road in Memphis (Love’s Truck Stop). The Reisters will also pick up any donation.
“We will pick up any toy. We collect toys for any age from preemie to a teenager. We will do whatever it takes to get the toys picked up and delivered. It doesn’t matter if it is 40 toys or 1,000 toys, we will do whatever it takes,” Matt stated.
Toy donations should be unwrapped. The couple will wrap each toy and organize the donations so each toy will go to an age appropriate child. Donations of gift bags will also be accepted to help the couple prepare each gift for the kids.
The toy drive has continued to grow each year. The drive more than doubled from year two to three as the 200 donated toys in 2012 grew to some 500 toys in 2013. Last year was a remarkable year for the toy drive as 3,000 toys were donated.
The success of the toy drive is from the generous support of local citizens. The Reisters want to thank everyone for their continued support.
“We thank everyone for all the support. We hope it continues to grow. We will go wherever and do whatever it takes to get the toy donations delivered,” Matt added.
Matt added, “We spent a lot of holidays in the hospital. We have seen kids stuck in there throughout the holidays. We just want to see a kid smile and you know the kids know that Christmas is happening outside their room and this way Christmas can happen inside their room.”
The Reisters fought back tears with both Matt and Christina taking the time to wipe away a tear that streaked down their cheek, “the most important thing is I want everyone to know they have my deepest heartfelt appreciation. I don’t know how to convey how cool it is for you to know that all these toys are to honor your kid. It’s humbling, heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time.”
Matt continued, “You can see the kids’ heart warm back up again. It may be a teenager that has given up. I see a teenager go from being glum about it, you know maybe they have a chronic illness, and are down. Then we go in and it’s a wow factor. You can truly see the Christmas spirit take back over in the kid. You see every aspect of the scenario, from the well to do where they may have fell at the ice skating rink and broke an arm and are in the hospital on Christmas, to the kid that has a chronic illness and the parent may not be able to be there with them on Christmas, to the family that is so broke there will be no Christmas. When you see the smile put on the kids’ faces, it makes it all worth it.”
Family friend, Larry Montgomery, will also be donating his time and talent to help with the toy drive. Montgomery will host a benefit concert for the Direct Link to a Smile Toy Drive on Saturday, December 5 at The Rusty Bucket and Venro located at 934 Main Street in Charlestown.
If you would like to help bring a smile to a hospitalized child on Christmas Day by making a donation to the “Direct Link to a Smile” Toy Drive, or would502-475-6670 or Christina at 502-609-5899 or e-mail them at