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Volunteers load bus with toys to fulfill East Lyme girl's wish to spread holiday cheer

East Lyme — A school bus packed with gifts — from puzzles and coloring books to a "Star Wars" mask and game of Battleship — headed Monday for Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, as part of a young girl's wish to spread holiday cheer.

Volunteers, several wearing tiger suits and Santa hats, hoisted boxes and bags of donated toys onto the bus. They worked together to carry heavy packages from a storage shed to the bus and also filled a van with toys.

The thousands of toys for children in the hospital, specifically ages 10 to 18, were from Madeline's Wish Toy Drive. Madeline Guarraia, a 9-year-old East Lyme girl facing her third bout of cancer, had come up with the idea as a way to bring happiness to other children. 

Earlier on Monday, Madeline delivered the first of the donations, which included iPods engraved with "Madeline's Wish" and a GoPro camera, to children at Yale-New Haven.

"She's seeing that her spirit is being shared everywhere, and she's really happy to have an impact on people and how they feel this holiday season," said Amy Parulis, a family friend of the Guarraias and an organizer for Madeline's Wish Toy Drive.

The donations came from people within the community of East Lyme and beyond. There were about 100 different drop-off locations in Connecticut, including schools, organizations and businesses, as well as two locations in Rhode Island. In addition, deliveries, from people who heard about Madeline's story, came in from Colorado, California, Texas and London.  

Parulis said that at a time when people hear about so much negative news in the world, Madeline's positive spirit is changing the way people look at the world around them. Parulis has received messages of gratitude from people who said that they are seeing changes in their family and that their children are going into their piggy banks to buy presents for other children.

"It’s just that positive energy," said Parulis. "It’s really spreading, and people are getting attached to it. They want to be part of this."

The toy drive has also provided gifts to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford, Care & Share in East Lyme, and the children of six individual families in need.

Paul Parulis, Amy's father who helped collect donations and bring them to the storage facility, said helping with the toy drive has given him the feeling of really having a worthwhile Christmas.

Carley Weted, a University of Connecticut student who helped load the bus on Monday, said she was inspired to help out, because her mother is a cancer survivor and because she has seen Parulis being positive and finding time in her busy schedule to collect toys.

Weted, who was sporting a tiger suit to celebrate Maddie's love of tigers, said the experience has been incredible and she never anticipated so many presents. 

"It's really magical that a nine-year-old wants to do something so incredible for her community and the people that understand what she went through," said Weted.

More information on the toy drive is available on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/521975084621489

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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