Delivering smiles for Christmas

WEDDINGTON – Katie Greene has worked to make Christmas special for hospitalized children for the past six years through her initiative, Katie’s Kidz.

(Above) Katie Greene braved the Black Friday crowds to purchase gifts for children in area hospitals. She’ll later help deliver the gifts and thousands of dollars more in items to area children’s hospitals.

(Above) Katie Greene braved the Black Friday crowds to purchase gifts for children in area hospitals. She’ll later help deliver the gifts and thousands of dollars more in items to area children’s hospitals.

And as Katie’s Kidz enters its seventh consecutive year, the Weddington 12-year-old is hoping to reach more kids in more hospitals than ever before.

It all started in 2007, when Katie, then 6 years old, stood in a department store, holding a teddy bear and wondering what it would be like if she could give a toy to all of the sick children in the hospital for Christmas. Since its inception, Katie’s Kidz has grown from donating $162 worth of toys to one Charlotte hospital, to collecting tens of thousands of items for multiple hospitals across two states.

And Katie has no plans of slowing down. Her goal is to raise $30,000 this year – her highest goal thus far – to purchase toys for kids of all ages in 12 hospitals, including Levine and Hemby children’s hospitals in Charlotte, Carolinas Medical Center-Union in Monroe, the children’s hospitals of Duke, Chapel Hill, Charleston, S.C., and more.

“Hospitals have come to depend on us,” Katie said. “People are used to Katie’s Kidz; stores are used to me coming in and spending $500 or $1,000, walking out with a ton of stuff.”

Katie speaks at churches, schools, rotary clubs and other meetings throughout the year, talking about Katie’s Kidz and encouraging the community to get involved. She and her family brave the local department stores on Black Friday and Saturday, seeking the best deals on items like toys, art and craft sets, DVDs, gift cards and electronics.

“We want the donations to go as far as they can because we want to be good stewards of the money,” she said.

Katie also works with businesses, schools and other organizations to host toy drives leading up to Christmas. Weddington High School’s First Priority Club, Covenant Day School, Mills Cleaners in Weddington, Carolina Family Chiropractic in the Blakeney area of south Charlotte and Crestdale Middle School all have jumped on board to host toy drives through Dec. 13.

Community members can donate money via PayPal at www.katieskidz.org or bring items to the various toy drive sites. Katie collects toys for all ages, though she said two areas of need are toy items for infants – teething rings, etc. – and gifts for teenagers – iTunes and Amazon.com gift cards, DVDs, art sets and more. She’s also hoping to use some of the money to purchase Kindles for teens.

“Teenagers and infants (often) get looked over,” Katie said.

Katie collects donations up until the annual “Packing Saturday” – Dec. 14 this year – when she and about 80 volunteers meet at the fellowship hall of her church, Weddington United Methodist, to sort, inventory and box the items before delivering them to the hospitals.

Though she doesn’t actually see children opening the gifts, just transporting them to the hospitals – a multiple-day endeavor – is exciting for Katie.

“Kids are getting gifts, there are smiles on children’s faces. It’s a gift of love from Katie’s Kidz – I’m delivering smiles,” Katie said. She added she’s probably most excited about delivering the toys to Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville. “I personally love the mountains in Asheville. I’m hoping there will be snow.”

Katie will begin setting her sights on Christmas 2014 in the next few months. And though she’s still young, Katie has already begun leaving her legacy – something she hopes inspires people to reach out and help others however they can.

“One of the reasons I do speaking events is so kids and adults, youth and seniors can have something sparked in them,” she said. “You’re never too young and never too old to start something.”

Find more information on how to help Katie’s Kidz at www.katieskidz.org.

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