Meghan Kelly, the Director of the Phoebe H. Stein Child Life Program at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore explained, “during the COVID19 pandemic we are not permitted to ‘loan’ toys to children and teens in the hospital. Everything we offer them must be given away for them to take home. This causes us to go through toys and craft supplies much more quickly. Having the support of enCourage Kids donations gives us enough supplies to provide our patients with distraction and normal daily routines and play opportunities.”

On March 11th, the world as we knew it changed. The healthcare industry had to evolve instantly. As the virus rapidly spread, medical professionals found themselves under-resourced and spread thinly. For children receiving care in the hospital, this, unfortunately, meant less support and increased isolation.

Imagine this: You are five years old, in a hospital bed, surrounded by adults you don’t know. They are all wearing masks and you cannot see their facial expressions or reassuring smiles. Everything around you is new and scary and you don’t quite understand what’s going on. You cannot go play, you cannot have your whole family by your side, and you are confined within the walls of your hospital room. This is the reality right now for pediatric patients nationwide.

Hospitals had to act quickly and take precautions to reduce the spread of infection and germs. They immediately imposed strict visitor restrictions and closed their playrooms. At most facilities, these changes have remained in effect over the past six months and will most likely continue through the end of 2020 and beyond. The hospital has always been a scary and uncomfortable place for kids, and these safety measures, while important, have taken an added toll on pediatric patients. They are left incredibly lonely, afraid, and overwhelmed. This is where enCourage Kids steps in.

Through our frequent communication with child life specialists, we learned of the urgent needs of their patients and their facilities. We jumped right in to help address those and provided items and support to offer patients critical comfort and distraction.

As New York hospitals were becoming more and more overwhelmed at the beginning of the pandemic, we provided 50 child life specialists with gift cards, putting the power back in their hands and giving them the ability to purchase items they specifically needed at their hospitals, for their patients.

We also sent 400 pediatric patients nationwide our enCourage Kids Bear, Teddy, to help them manage the extraordinary stress and isolation they were facing. He became a hand to hold and a trusted companion for young patients throughout their stay, giving them encouragement and support when they missed their families. While being in the hospital during a pandemic can be especially frightening, playing with Teddy feels safe and familiar. One of the most important features of the enCourage Kids Bear is that each arrives individually packaged, meeting the hospital’s strict infection control protocols, especially in the midst of even stricter policies and procedures.

Along with gift cards and Teddy, we sent supplies and Care and Coping Kits to medical facilities nationwide to provide their patients with activities and entertainment during this time of heightened isolation. With strict safety protocols in place, hospitals could only receive donations directly from organizations like enCourage Kids. The supplies and kits we sent included age-appropriate activities, coloring books, a variety of craft materials, as well as games, cards, and small electronics for kids to play with. These offered therapeutic distraction and helped to calm kids during long wait times and in between treatments. With hours of entertainment, the hospital environment felt more friendly and comforting, allowing children to experience a break from their pain, difficulties, and loneliness. We extend a very special thanks to The Garden of Dreams Foundation whose generous support helped send 500 Care and Coping Kits specifically designed for teenage patients in the New York Metro area.

Our top priority remains fulfilling the unique needs of pediatric patients and child life specialists, while also adhering to the strict safety protocols in place. Child life specialists were grateful to receive the support that helped them in caring for their patients, and their patients were tremendously appreciative as well. One 14-year-old shared “the mini Jenga® is my favorite. I feel special that someone was thinking of kids like me in the hospital.”

enCourage Kids Foundation is thankful to our generous supporters who helped to ensure children in the hospital have been given support, distraction, and recreation, especially during this challenging and difficult time. We will continue to help young patients cope with loneliness, fear, and discomfort while hospitalized, during the pandemic and beyond.