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Little kids, big wishes

Most kids dread a doctor’s visit, but a trip to the emergency room can be especially frightening. That’s why two Tampa Bay area hospital emergency rooms are helping ease children’s fears of medical attention.

With donations from toy manufacturers, the Kids Wish Network has given University Community Hospital and Tampa General Hospital each $20,000 worth of toys. The program, called the Holiday of Hope Gift Bank, will last as long as donated toys do. The emergency room staff will give a toy to every child who comes into the pediatric emergency room.

“When a child comes into the emergency room late at night, they are usually very scared,” said Shelley Breiner, executive director of the Oldsmar-based Kids Wish Network. “This will take some of the scariness away.”

The Town ‘N Country and University area Wal-Marts are the underwriters of the Holiday of Hope Gift Bank at Tampa General, while Bright House Online Services is sponsoring UCH. The sponsors pay for any costs associated with distributing the toys, including shipping, boxing and labor, Breiner said.

“Many people donate around the holidays, but they don’t realize that some of these children are in the hospital year-round,” said Breiner.

The Kids Wish Network’s primary goal is to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, according to its Web site,

The program was founded in 1997, and received its status as a charitable organization the following year. Since then, Breiner said, they have helped fulfill the wishes of thousands of children worldwide.

Each year, the network hosts Holiday of Hope for all the children and families of children who are in the hospital.

“We’re big on memories, and the whole event builds a big memory,” Breiner said.

At the event, toys are distributed, pies are thrown at doctors and Home Depot organizes an arts and crafts session. Last year’s guest celebrities included players from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The next Holiday of Hope will be held at Shriner’s Hospital on Nov. 6.

According to the Web site, siblings of children with life-threatening diseases sometimes don’t get as much attention as their sick siblings. Holiday of Hope tries to bring the whole family together to celebrate the holidays.

Students can volunteer to help with the Kids Wish Network by looking for opportunities listed on the Web site.

Because the Kids Wish Network has only one office, they are able to spend more money on the children. The guardian angel program allows people to make dollar donations, 100 percent of which goes toward helping fulfill a child’s wish.

The only requirement for a child to be eligible for a wish to be fulfilled is that their physician identify their disease as life threatening. Unlike some similar organizations, no life expectancy must be given.

Breiner has been a part of the network since it was founded.

“It is so beautiful and rewarding to put a smile on the children who deserve it,” Breiner said.