It’s Christmas in June at the Rainbow House, an emergency shelter for children and families in Columbia. An ordinary building on Towne Drive, the Rainbow House has a modest garage in the back that, instead of cars and lawn mowers, houses stuffed pink poodles and stray red wagons. Inside the garage, rows of cloth bags are jammed full of toys so new they almost sparkle.
Donated by the Kids Wish Network in Holiday, Fla., the $42,000 worth of toys will be used as going-away gifts for the children who have spent time at the shelter during a crisis.
The nonprofit Kids Wish Network grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. Its program, the Holiday of Hope Gift Bank, from which the Rainbow House is benefitting, receives toys donated by major toy manufacturers across the country.
Although the organization usually donates to hospitals, it was Stephanie Sleight’s job to find other organizations in need. “I came across the Rainbow House, and I gave them a call,” Sleight said.
The reaction she gets from the person on the other end of the line is usually the same, she said. “They always ask, ‘What’s the catch?’ And I always say, ‘There is no catch, I just want to give you toys.’”
Ashley Turner, children’s emergency shelter coordinator for the Rainbow House, acknowledged she was suspicious at first. “I was curious how they were going to do it,” she said.
Turner said transporting the toys was made possible by Columbia orthodontist Scott Robinson, who has worked before with the Rainbow House. Robinson donated almost $3,000 toward packaging and transporting the toys from Florida to Missouri.
“It is a huge deal to have something when their lives are in upheaval,” he said. “It gives them a boost.”
More than 150 children go through the Rainbow House in a year, Turner said. The shelter is responsible for serving abused and neglected children during crises and giving them a safe place to stay.
On Tuesday, Robinson made a visit to the shelter to see the toys for the first time.
“He was kind of overwhelmed,” said Jan Stock, executive director of the Rainbow House. “He was, like, ‘Wow, these are the toys that came from Florida? This is a lot of toys.’”
Although Robinson’s children are grown, he sees plenty of others in his job and said he feels invested in the well-being of children overall. “I see how (Rainbow House) improves these kids’ lives,” he said. “I’m just happy to help.”
The Kids Wish Network has a simple objective, Sleight said. “Our goal is to have smiles across the country.”
Turner’s desire for the Rainbow House is similar. Before joining the shelter three years ago, she worked with the state children’s services placing children from abusive homes. “I always had to see the dark side,” she said.
She said one instance in particular made her decide the Rainbow House was the place for her. “I had recently worked with a child that was seriously abused, to the point that they wouldn’t speak,” Turner recalled. “Then I saw them at the Rainbow House, singing and swinging, and I knew this is where I needed to be.”