Two tragedies in his young life inspired Tyler Levy’s bar mitzvah project: Eight and a half years ago, his mother, Daryl, died of cancer. Then, four years later, his 7-year-old-cousin, Tanner Joroff, was stricken with leukemia.
“After my cousin was in the hospital I saw the toys cheered him up,” he told NJJN, referring to gifts the young patient received from the Valerie Fund. Tanner survived.
Among many services, the Maplewood-based fund distributes toys and games to children with cancer and blood disorders. That is part of its mission “to truly heal the children with whose care we are entrusted, we must treat them emotionally, socially, and developmentally, as well as medically.”
Having toys to play with “made Tanner feel like a regular kid,” said Tyler’s father, Scott Levy.
The gifts his cousin received also led to Tyler’s decision to help the Valerie Fund when it came time to pick a project for his bar mitzvah, which will take place on May 13 at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.
Back in February, Tyler set a goal of collecting 100 new toys before his bar mitzvah day. After his father and 11-year-old sister, Jayda, pitched in, the number has doubled — thanks in part to donations from friends and other family members. So far he has collected more than 200 new games, puzzles, building blocks, action figures, and other toys, and the count continues to increase. The toys will be delivered to the Valerie Fund, which will distribute them to hospitals.
“Kids in hospitals love getting these gifts,” said Barry Kirschner, executive director of the Valerie Fund. “It helps them get through their treatments. Kids helping kids is a concept we promote here and it is wonderful when a person like Tyler does this.”
Mark & Julie’s Homemade Ice Cream in West Orange was the single largest contributor to Tyler’s collection. “We go there all the time and they know the kids and all of my family,” said Scott.
Mark Orenstein, co-owner of the ice cream parlor, used his family’s connections to the toy business to make the largest single donation to Tyler’s campaign: 20 cases of transformers.
“The Levys are good customers of ours. We know Tyler lost his mother to cancer so when he asked us for a contribution we were very eager to help,” Orenstein told NJJN.
When Tyler stands at the bima to address the congregation at his bar mitzvah, he will speak about the need for “unconditional charity,” according to his father.
Tyler said he expects to keep the collection going after he becomes a bar mitzvah. Anyone wishing to make a donation of toys or money should contact his father by email at Slevy212@aol.com.
Beyond providing gifts for young people who are seriously ill, the Valerie Fund provides outpatient health care to more than 6,000 children and their families each year. There are seven Valerie Fund Children’s Centers for Cancer and Blood Disorders located in major hospitals in New Jersey, New York, and the Philadelphia area, all of which are dedicated to the memory of 9-year-old Valerie Goldstein, who died of cancer in 1976.