Ferron, in his handmade Animal-inspired muppet helmet was accompanied by other helmet heads during a late-morning visit, greeted by cheering staff at NRGH.
The group also supports other Island hospitals, including Victoria, Duncan and Campbell River. A partnership with staff in Comox is ongoing but no donations have been made there yet.
Ferron said hospitals have very specific requirements for toys, due to health and safety requirements for patients and staff.
All the items are sanitized and stored safely before being dropped off which leaves little for staff inside to do other than hand them out.
“Stuffed animals, anything fabric, electronic devices like Bluetooth or wireless, all those sorts of things that are in toys these days now have to be sorted through and are either unsuitable and have to go to a different location or have to be sanitized, re-packaged then given to the kids.”
Figuring out what can go to the hospital and what needs to be sent elsewhere has gotten easier over the years, according to Ferron, who has developed a good relationship with staff at each site.
Items which can’t go to kids at the hospital are instead redirected to the ministry of children and family development offices in Duncan.
As pandemic restrictions have ease, Ferron’s also gotten the opportunity to see the fruits of his labour and hand deliver some items himself.
“Now that I have more of a rapport with the staff, I’m able to come in and I put my helmet on, wear my leather jacket and I walk through the halls. You can just see the smiles, their eyes light up and it’s really exciting.”
Ferron said mp3 players with headphone jacks are perfect for older kids and they work to pre-load with songs for them to enjoy.
Sandra Hirota was one of the hospital staff on scene to welcome Ferron and the Helmet Heads on Wednesday.
She told NanaimoNewsNOW her work as a child life specialist with kids and families from birth to 17 years old benefits immensely from toys and play.
“I use play as a way to break the ice and being in the hospital when they have toys, it’s a game changer for kids. I’ve seen kids who you put toys in front of them, it absolutely changes their stay and makes it a positive experience.”
She added a simple toy can be a crucial distraction or piece of home for kids experiencing tough times at hospital.
“I’ve seen kids who are having multiple attempts for an IV start or going for surgery and really scared then I come in and allow them to have some toys, it’s help normalize being in the hospital and helps them to be able to rally.”
Donations of toys in Nanaimo can be made at the bin inside the front entrance of Starbucks next to Chapters on Mary Ellen Dr., by Woodgrove Centre.
More information on the Helmet Heads is available through their Facebook page.
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On Twitter: @alexrawnsley