Theissen Foundation brings Christmas joy to Long Island children in need

Long Islander John Thiessen is running his annual campaign to give every child on Long Island a taste of Christmas spirit.

For the 21st straight year, the John Theissen Children’s Foundation is holding its toy drive to benefit children in local hospitals.

The John Theissen Foundation partners with 102.3 WBAB to collect toys for sick and underprivileged children. (Photo Credit: Brian Hoffman, WBAB)

Theissen started the foundation back in 1992, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 17. While in the hospital he became friends with a 7-year-old girl named Tasha, so much, so that his  family took her to the hospital’s Christmas party.  When Santa asked what she wanted for Christmas, she replied, “I would like a teddy bear for (my) friend upstairs.” That friend was Theissen. From then on, John decided to hold a toy drive during the holiday season to help other children.

In the toy drive’s first year, the JTCF collected 800 toys. Last year,  the 20th year of the foundation’s existence, they collected over 73,000. In total, the JTCF has collected over 800,000 toys for sick children in local hospitals.

Theissen estimates that the foundation has donated toys to nearly every hospital on Long Island with a pediatric wing. The toys are distributed to over 225 hospitals, agencies and child-care facilities before Christmas.

“We’re a year-round organization,” Theissen said. “We grant wishes, we help families with medical expenses. We have a Fun Center in Wantagh where we throw the kids free parties with arcade games, a wish room and an arts and crafts room.”

“Our goal for each year is to not say no to any child and keep up with the requests,” Theissen added. “That’s the hardest part. I don’t look for goals or say, ‘We need 100,000 toys this year.’ If it’s going to take 100,000 toys, then I hope we get that but we never know how many requests come in. My goal is to make sure that anyone who submits a request, and it’s a legitimate request, that we can take care of it.”

This year, the JTCF will also be a part of the Children of Sandy toy drive on Dec. 7 to benefit children and families affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“The specific donations that come in for that toy drive, whether it’s the toys or monetary donations, there’s a group that is running the drive and they wanted to help out the victims of Sandy,” Theissen said. “They asked if the donations could go through me and my foundation since I’m in contact with these families.”

Those interested can drop off new, unwrapped toys to any one of the 33 Long Island Friendly’s locations.