Cafeteria Worker Saves Up Year-Round to Buy Toys for Sick Kids Hospitalized Over the Holidays

"I just wanted to do something to put a smile on children who are hurting, so I came up with a plan to start to buy toys for them," said Jessie Tendayi.

This Chicago hospital cafeteria worker does not sport a white beard or red cap, but she proved to be quite a Santa Claus when she served up nearly 1,000 toys to children stuck at the hospital over the holidays.

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For the last eight years, Jessie Tendayi, a cafeteria worker at the Advocate Trinity Hospital, has been setting aside money from each paycheck to purchase gifts for children at Advocate Children’s Hospital who won't make it home for Christmas.

“God put it in my heart to do something for these children,” Tendayi, 55, told “I just wanted to do something to put a smile on children who are hurting, so I came up with a plan to start to buy toys for them.”

Tendayi, who does not have any kids of her own, said she withdraws all the money she set aside toward the end of October every year, and starts budgeting to purchase gifts around Thanksgiving and Black Friday, all of which she brings home in a U-Haul truck she hires for the occasion.

“They’ll see me waiting by the door before they open,” she said. “Thanksgiving, people will be enjoying eating [with their family]. That’s the chance for me to buy my toys. 

When she started her project in 2009, she had only 100 gifts to give away, but for this holiday season, she was able to purchase nearly 1000 toys. “This year, I managed to save $5000. It’s a sacrifice I have to make,” she said.

She stored her enormous collection at home, until earlier this week, when she hand delivered the presents to each patient.

“I want to feel what they’re going through. When I do that, I feel like I made a difference to the child of their parents,” Tendayi said. “Some of them cry, and I cry with them. 

For all her selfless work, Toys R Us even wrote her a check for $5,000 after she gave away all her toys this year, as a head start for the collection of toys she will gift next year. 

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“It’s going to make my year easier,” she told “I’m just blessed to do what I’m doing and I’m looking forward to [doing] more than what I’m doing now.”

Eager to continue her mission to do good deeds, Tendayi has even started a non-profit, Love for Children, where supporters are encouraged to donate to her cause.

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