Jessie Tendayi spends her days working in the cafeteria at Advocate Trinity Hospital on Chicago's South Side.
But in her off-time, she's busy being Santa's helper, purchasing hundreds of toys throughout the year with her own money to benefit some of Advocate's youngest patients at Christmastime.
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On Monday, the payoff came for Tendayi when she handed out her first batch of toys to pediatric patients at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge. The children came in one by one to the hospital's family lounge, where they got to pick one toy from the roomful of gifts.
"This is what I want to see from the children," Tendayi said as 2-year-old Brandon Hinojosa of Lake Zurich grew excited over the new Marvel figurine set he picked from among the 700 toys. "He's not focusing on his health (problems). I want them to make sure they take their minds off that. I want them to know they are loved."
Tendayi, an 11-year Advocate employee, decided to start buying toys for patients four years ago after watching a television program about children in poverty.
"I saw they needed something. I asked, 'What should I do for them?' God put it in my heart that I should do something for them," she said.
So Tendayi, who immigrated to the United States 19 years ago from Africa, decided to start saving a portion of her monthly paychecks to be able to buy presents for patients in children's hospitals.
This year, she saved $2,200 to buy about 700 gifts, which she is giving out at Advocate children's hospitals in Park Ridge and Oak Lawn. She also received a donation of 176 toys following an appearance on "Windy City Live" on ABC 7.
Now, she's embarking on the creation of her own nonprofit organization, Love for Children, which eventually will accept donations for her toy program.
Robbie Hinojosa, Brandon's father, said his son has experienced a lot of excitement since he made his first hospital trip in August, when Chicago Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough brought the Stanley Cup for a visit.
Since then, Brandon has been in and out of the hospital, sometimes spending as many as four days at a time. But his dad says he's enjoyed his time there thanks to the many activities offered by the hospital, including painting and magician performances.
The Christmas gift from Tendayi, he said, means a lot.
"You're an angel. You are an amazing person," Hinojosa told her. "The world needs more people like you."
Tendayi says she plans to keep buying toys for children year after year.
"This is for life," she said.