LORDSTOWN - Hannah Emerson hadn't even finished collecting all the items for her first toy drive for the Make-A-Wish Foundation when she started planning her next effort.
The 11-year-old Lordstown girl said she's counting on the 2011 Christmas toy drive to be bigger and better than the one she organized this past holiday season.
"I learned a lot," Hannah remarked. "But I know it can be better. The next one will be better."
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Hannah Emerson, 11, recently launched a benefit toy drive in memory of her cousin, who died at age 2.
Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hannah started thinking about ways she could help other children, and do so in the memory of her cousin, Tiffany, who died from cancer in 1985 at the age of 3. Although Hannah never had the opportunity to meet Tiffany, she still wanted to honor her.
She told her mom, DeAnn Bennett, she wanted to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Within a few days of making that announcement, she had contacted the organization and realized she could do just that by conducting a toy drive for the Make A Wish Toy Closet.
"When Hannah told me about her idea, I was a little reluctant about it, but Hannah made the process so easy," Bennett said. "I was very impressed at how she organized this toy drive with little help."
NAME: Hannah Emerson
YEARS LIVING HERE: 2
ORGANIZATIONS: Lordstown Elementary School Drama Club; Austintown Jr. Soccer League
In November she launched the toy drive to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, Northeast Ohio Region.
The family learned the effort is the first of its kind for the foundation, Hannah's mom said. Hannah set up a small Christmas tree with a donation box at the Lordstown Speedcheck on Tod Avenue S.E. in Lordstown to collect toys for the children. In just a few weeks she collected about 178 toys. The Lordstown Lions Club also helped by taking her shopping.
''I'm really proud of her," Bennett said. ''She took so much on herself and really put everything into it. She did it."
Hannah said she was influenced a lot by her mom, who seldom passes on an opportunity to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Because of this and other information she had gathered, she decided it was worth putting her heart into.
"I think about everything I have and how fortunate I am," Hannah said. "And then I think about the kids who are sick and I want to do what I can. That's really important."
When a child's wish is granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the child receives toys during the planning process of their wish as icebreaker and ''thinking-of-you'' gifts from their wish-granting volunteers. The toys are related to the child's special interests or wish. Volunteers also provide an icebreaker gift for the wish child's siblings so they don't feel left out, said Kim Sazima, a development associate for Make-A-Wish.
Hannah said she was pleased to be able to collect many of the items on the foundation's wish list including Disney plush toys, coloring books and crayons, beach hats and sunglasses, travel-size bath and shampoo items, card games, costume jewelry, SpongeBob toys and hand-held electronic games such as 20Q and Uno.
Sazima said she was impressed that Hannah would take it upon herself to reach out to the foundation.
"She did this all by herself," Sazima said. "She looked us up on the Internet and contacted us and looked into what our needs are and set out to meet them the best way she could. And she's only 11. That's amazing."
Sazima said Hannah's effort was significant for the foundation's regional branch, which has a small staff and relies heavily on its volunteers.
"She really helped us and we're very grateful for that help," Sazima said. "We really appreciate everything she's done. We've had older people help us. But again, when you consider her age and the work she did, she's a very special girl."
Hannah is active in Tae kwon do classes, is a member of the Lordstown Elementary School Drama Club and the Austintown Junior Soccer League.
Despite the busy schedule, she said she definitely will make time to plan her next toy drive and possibly get involved in other volunteer efforts.
"It is definitely better to give than to receive," she said. "I've heard people say that, but now I know it's true."