PHILADELPHIA -- "You know, the holidays are a really hard time if you have someone who passed away," said Julie Helner. "And you want to think of a way to honor them and their memory."
Helner's family was faced with that challenge in 2019 when their mother, a nurse for more than 30 years at Bryn Mawr Hospital, passed away from a heart attack.
"My mom loved the holidays. She literally would start shopping for Christmas in like January every year and we would have piles upon piles of presents," said Helner. "And she was a nurse her entire career and I just thought it would be perfect to donate to a hospital and collect toys in her honor."
Thus, in 2020, Helner reached out to her Media, Pennsylvania community to create the first Jeanne Helner Memorial Gift Drive. They raised about $3,000 to purchase toys to donate to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. This year, that number is inching towards $6,000.
For the first time, Helner had a chance to meet a gift recipient face-to-face. 11-year-old Cooper Savoy of Germantown has been a patient at St. Christopher's on and off since infancy.
"I feel comfortable here because, like, this is like my second home," said Savoy.
The sixth-grader has Waardenburg Syndrome and suffers from abdominal pain. He got a break from his now four-month stay by stepping outside and meeting Julie Helner. She offered him his choice of age-related gifts. Savoy was thrilled to select a copy of Madden 23 for the PlayStation 4 and a sweatshirt depicting his favorite quarterback, Jalen Hurts.
"I want the donors to know that we really appreciate the stuff that you gave us," he said. "And one day, I'll pay it all in return and do something for you."
Savoy wants to become either a public speaker, football player, or the President when he grows up. He also wants to create a foundation to help children in the same way that Helner helped him.
"I feel like all the kids need stuff and we can't leave them hanging like that," he said.
It's that sense of holiday cheer that keeps Julie Helner moving forward with her mother's best wishes at heart.
"It really kind of helps me get through the season and bring some joy back to a time that's really hard for me and my family," said Helner.
For anyone interested in helping children like Cooper Savoy, visit their website.