Eight-year-old Cody Struble has sagittal craniosynostosis, a painful skull disorder that has led to three major surgeries for the little boy. So Struble knows what it’s like to spend long stretches in the hospital.
Still, he’s never been hospitalized over Christmas, so he was shocked to learn nearly three years ago that several children wouldn’t be able to go home for the holidays.
“Cody asked what he could do for the kids that don’t get to home for Christmas,” his mother, Sonia Ericksen, recalls to PEOPLE. “I gave him some ideas. Cody got quiet on the way home from the hospital, I thought he had fallen asleep.”
She continues: “As we got closer to home, Cody yelled out, ‘We are going to do [a] toy drive!’ “
Ericksen, of Franksville, Wisconsin, contacted officials at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwasota and she and Struble held the first toy drive in 2016, collecting 518 items for kids at the hospital. Now, the drive has become a tradition for the outgoing boy.
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Struble has several drop-off points around the county for people to donate toys. So far, he has collected 1,180 toys with plans to take them to both the Children’s Hospital and the area’s Ronald McDonald House.
“This makes Cody feel very joyful. The children think that they are not getting presents and then they look, and there are toys,” Ericksen says, noting that they are not allowed to take the toys to the children personally due to HIPAA regulations.
“Sadly we don’t get to see them, but from what we have heard from the nurses and doctors the children are very excited and smile. The nurses and doctors tell the patients where they come from. The children are very thankful to get a present on Christmas.”
She says the toys have to come in original packaging and are sanitized before they are given to the children. Struble’s 14-year-old sister, Erica Struble, also helps with the toy drive, making the good deed a family affair.
“We as a family work very hard to get the toys to the hospitals before Christmas,” Ericksen tells PEOPLE. “We do this together.”
She adds of Struble: “I am very proud of my son for doing good for his community. He has a heart of gold and helps everyone that needs it.”
Struble plans to hold a toy drive for years to come. And he told WLKY that his motivation for the drive is simple.
“I just try my best to be nice to people,” he said.
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