In honor of the late Asher Leonard’s birthday, Nov. 17, his family is set to play host to the Asher Leonard Memorial Toy Drive for the second year, Shannon Leonard said Monday. Four-year-old Asher died this summer after an extended bout with cancer.
“We started this last year,” Leonard said. “It was kind of like ‘Hey, we have an opportunity to give back’ and we felt like people would really want to spoil Asher on his birthday. And people had been generous since his diagnosis, and we decided rather than giving Asher birthday presents, we’d spin it into a toy drive donation in honor of Asher’s birthday.”
Asher would be celebrating his 5th birthday this year, Leonard said, and he would want to keep giving back to those in need.
“He was diagnosed Oct. 14, 2011, with a brain tumor, so he was just under 3 years old,” she said. “Asher went through a handful of surgeries and chemotherapy, radiation and a whole string of treatments as well as having some other complications and things that really just wore his body down from treatment and he passed away June 30 of this year.”
Remembering Asher’s excitement last year during the toy drive made the family want to turn the event into a tradition, Leonard said.
“Asher embraced it and loved the idea of taking toys for his friends,” she said. “It spiraled, I guess, and we kind of put it out there and set up a care page to alert people of his condition so if people were sending him a birthday present to please think of providing it for the hospital.”
Last year, all gifts were given to the Children’s Mercy Hematology and Oncology department, Leonard said, and would be given to the same department again after this year’s event. Monetary donations will be used to purchase toys for donation.
“We’ve been on the receiving end, and to be able to give back to other people is pretty awesome,” she said.
Last year’s event raised $2,000 in donations — $1,500 of which came from Ottawa Middle School’s dodgeball tournament, Leonard said.
The choice to participate in the toy drive again this year was an easy one, Austin Entress, Ottawa Middle School assistant principal, said.
“[Last year] we had been kicking around the idea of starting a dodgeball tournament to do before Thanksgiving break and we heard about Asher’s story and knew we wanted to help,” Entress said. “This year, I had been keeping in touch with [Leonard] and she told me they were doing the toy drive again in his name, and we wanted to make sure we got involved again.”
The entry fees for the dodgeball tournament are expected to go toward the toy drive, Entress said, with entry fees being $5 per participant or $30 for a team of six.
Getting the kids at the middle school involved and giving back to a good cause helps students understand what it means to serve others, Entress said.
“It’s a great lesson for kids as far as giving back to others and our kids were receptive and wanted to help,” he said. “[Asher’s] brother, Caleb, is an eighth-grader and that helps kids have a personal connection. All-in-all, the kids enjoy knowing they can help others and in a way that it’s meaningful to them.”
The dodgeball tournament is set for Nov. 25, but for those wanting to participate in the toy drive, donations and toys can be dropped off at the Ottawa Library, 105 S. Hickory St., Ottawa, before Dec. 5, Leonard said.
“We’re so fortunate to live in such an amazing community, and it’s so wonderfully overwhelming,” she said. “We are so blessed to have people who love and care about us and continue to support us and participate in events so we can give back, because obviously we couldn’t do it all ourselves.”