In March 2020, the Horvath family’s world was flipped upside down. Only 10 days after the first statewide COVID-19 emergency closures were instated, then-8-year-old Colby was diagnosed with B lymphoblastic lymphoma. But he hasn’t let cancer stop him from giving back and helping other pediatric oncology patients celebrate the holiday season.

Last year, Colby started a toy drive for the MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) Cancer Center with the hope of collecting 100 toys. He exceeded his goal, collecting more than 700 gifts and $7,000 in gift cards.

The idea for his toy drive, known as “Operation Colby Claus,” came to the Lexington resident after one of his treatments.

“The clinic does such a nice job of letting kids pick out a toy when they have a procedure or have a really tough day,” Colby’s mom, Courtney Horvath, says. “One day, as Colby was choosing something from the toy chest, he noticed gift cards for grocery stores and gas stations. He asked his nurse why any kid would choose those, and she explained that kids whose families are struggling might need them.”

Colby knew he wanted to help those families, so he launched his toy drive on Facebook with his mom’s help. Within 48 hours, the Horvath house had boxes of toys piled up to the ceiling.

“We decided to capitalize on the success of last year to continue the toy drive this year,” says Horvath. “It has exploded.”

So far, Colby has collected 1,960 toys and another $7,300 in gift cards for the 2021 holiday season. “Operation Colby Claus” has donation bins set up at area toy stores, preschools, dance studios and area businesses. Colby’s friends have even set up their own hot chocolate stands to help him raise money.

Many of the gifts Colby collects are delivered to patients throughout the month of December as part of the MGHfC hematology and oncology clinic’s annual holiday toy store.

“We are very lucky to have generous donors who bring in many, many toys and gift cards,” says Child Life Specialist Clare Kelley, MS, CCLS. “For kids who will be in the clinic this month, we have them fill out a wish list to see what they’re interested in for toys.”

Once they receive the wish lists, nurses and Child Life staff sort through toy donations and stuff Santa sacks, ready to be distributed as the children are finishing up their treatments.

“We really want to share some of the generosity we receive with the kids and families who are coming into the clinic,” says Child Life Specialist Heather Peach, MS, CCLS. “As you can imagine, with a hematology diagnosis or an oncology diagnosis, there’s a huge burden on families. This is a way for us to share with families during the holidays.”

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