Shruti Shenoy (far left), Juhi Pande (centre), founders of Toy Box with some happy kids.
Two Mumbai-based professionals aim to make underprivileged children happy by donating toys and books to them.
It wasn’t just another day of their third-year college when two media students of Mumbai University, Shruti Shenoy and Juhi Pande, went around the city talking to the children of an orphanage in Bandra.
“While talking to three seven-year-old kids, I got to know how much they loved their orphanage and school but the only thing they didn’t like was that nine of them had to share one doll, they didn’t get to cuddle a toy to sleep! I came back home and this bothered me a lot. When I spoke about this to Juhi, we felt that we needed to focus on the toys, books, arts and the imagination of a child’s upbringing,” says Shruti, a Mumbai-based media professional. Similarly, Juhi who acknowledged the much-talked about rampant inequalities in mass-media classes, wanted to bring about a change, however small it would be.
The duo then thought it would be best to provide underprivileged children with toys and books in an attempt to divert their minds from hardships such as a loss of a parent, financial constraints and prolonged illness and help them build their imagination. “That’s when Toy Box was born,” say the two in unison.
The ‘Toy Box’ story began in May 2013 with a WhatsApp forward when both Juhi and Shruti formulated a message and sent it to everyone in their contact list.
“We put together a WhatsApp forward, and sent it to everyone on our contact list. And the word spread like fire. The very next day we started getting phone calls from people saying they were willing to donate toys and books and also clothes! I remember, we went to collect our first ever donation just the day after we sent out our first broadcast,” says Juhi, who is now a PR professional based in Mumbai.
Even today, what keeps the two going is the goodwill they receive from people. Every month, a forward is sent out through Toy Box and people get back with major donations about every two weeks. “By major donations, we mean a small carful of toys, books and sometimes clothes enough for 30-35 kids,” quips Shruti.
Toy Box, which has so far donated toys to more than 150 kids, believes the initiative requires research before they select a place for donation. “We donate to both institutions and underprivileged children we meet at traffic signals and those sleeping on pavements. If we are giving toys to street children, we make sure these are the children we see at the same spot regularly; we go back to them to do a kind of follow-up. Institutions need comparatively less scrutiny, but we make sure we do a follow-up, visit fairly often, just to make sure that we are fulfilling the entire purpose of Toy Box,” says Juhi.
The duo who have solely relied on social media and word-of-mouth to spread the word about Toy Box, have donated toys and books to children at St. Catherine’s orphanage, Bandra; St. Jude’s Cancer Center, Parel; Desire Society for Children suffering from AIDS in Goregaon’ Neev in Vile Parle; and street children at Bandra, Colaba, Churchgate and Charni Road across the city.
Furthermore, Juhi and Shruti are keen to work with child labourers. Currently, Toy Box is helping to set up a library for Nehru Nagar Municipal School in Kurla, in collaboration with a Teach for India fellow. To chalk out time amid their busy schedules, the duo makes sure weekends are only for Toy Box work. “We have to compromise on our social life a bit but we love it,” say the two.