GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The sleigh was yellow and long and the elves were a bit taller than most, but the spirit of Santa Claus was alive and well at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Tuesday, in the form of a 9-year-old boy who’s been through a lot.
For years, the pediatric infusion unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital was a familiar place for Dawson Babiak and his family.
Dawson was 4 when he began treatment for leukemia, and the fight of his life did not take a holiday. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is where Dawson spent his first Christmas after being diagnosed.
His family would discover that sometimes, it’s the little things that make a difference. In Dawson’s case, it was a couple of window markers given to him as a gift that Christmas.
“He wasn’t out of his bed for a couple of weeks. And those markers caused him to actually get out of his bed, walk over to the window and start drawing,” said Dawson’s dad, Jason Babiak.
During a shopping trip for a family gift after that long hospital stay, Dawson had an idea: If the gift he received could lift his spirits, why not pay it forward?
“He saw something, and it sparked a memory of, ‘Hey, remember when I was in the hospital?’” Alison Babiak recounted. “And then he asked us, ‘Could we get this? Could we get this and give it to the hospital so that they can give it to a kid?’ And that’s really what started it. And it just snowballed from there.”
So, Dawson began the annual toy drive in his hometown of Hopkins. Soon the whole town was involved, including Hopkins Schools where his parents teach.
“To see this kind of response here is not something we could do by ourselves. Dawson is definitely the one that ignited it. But without people’s support, we wouldn’t be able to do such an amazing thing,” said Alison Babiak.
With the toy delivery complete Tuesday, elves in the form of nurses and other caregivers will take over. They’ll sort through the toys, matching them with specific children in their care.
“For them to know their kids so well, to have those conversations and see what they like and what they enjoy… it’s almost a family,” said Jason Babiak.
Meanwhile, Dawson has found strength from the comfort he’s bringing kids waging the same battle.
“He is doing so well now, and now is our opportunity to give back. And this is what we choose,” said Alison Babiak. “Just the small things… a matchbox toy, a package of markers. Any little thing just helps so much to bring joy to kids that need a little bit of that in their lives right now.”
Jason Babiak thinks they broke a record this year, but says he lost count after about the first $6,000 worth of toys collected. That was before a big final push that brought in even more toys.