The garage and driveway of the Ambrose home in Old Town North of Western Springs was filled Saturday afternoon with colorful piles of toys and books being sorted by industrious young men: toys and books destined for new homes where they are sorely needed.
Fourteen-year-old Justin Ambrose presided over the categorization, this being his project for attaining the Boy Scouts’ Eagle rank. Ambrose has spent the last three months organizing a campaign to collect donated toys and books for the organization Toy Box Connection and for the Ronald McDonald House’s new hospital in Streeterville (Chicago.)
To collect the goods, Ambrose left donation boxes throughout Western Springs: at all four District 101 schools (, , and ) and also at the downtown Starbucks, which he said brought in the biggest hauls in the tall cardboard boxes.
“Being able to check them every weekend and see how they’ve already filled up—that was pretty crazy how, you empty it one day, you come back and it’s full,” Ambrose said. “[Toy Box Connection] always need new toys, always need more help, more people to help the organization grow and help more people.”
One of Ambrose’s spotlight acquisitions was a vintage Bachmann Clementine electric train set in excellent condition. Additionally, a number of books came from leftovers of the spring rummage sale. (Ambrose is of Troop 12, which runs out of First Congo.)
Toy Box Connection, headquartered in New York, is a volunteer organization that works year-round to provide new and gently-used toys and gifts for hospitals, shelters, group homes, charity camps, etc. in the greater Chicagoland area. Over the past four years, they have supplied over a million toys and books to these places in need.
Organization director Michelle Maxia heaped praise on Ambrose, saying “there’s far and few in-between of him” and declaring that his work would bring greater joy to kids where it might otherwise be difficult to find.
“It is just so powerful when you have a young person who makes a decision to not only gives their own stuff, but create an effort to let other people know that there’s a place for them to give their stuff,” said Maxia. “He’s doing something very unique… He’s an incredible young man, and he’s going to affect the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children.”
“We’re really proud of him,” said Troop 12 Scoutmaster Pete Buinauskas. “He did it on his own. He knew everything about Toy Box Connection; he knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. He did just a fantastic job of dotting every ‘i' and crossing every ‘t.’”
Ambrose and company are delivering the toys on Thursday to start their journeys into the hands of happy kids.