Never underestimate the power of this community.

Last year around this time, the News-Argus published a story on the effort soliciting donations for the toy box in the pediatrics unit at Wayne Memorial Hospital -- now UNC Health Care ---- for items to be distributed to children hospitalized during the holidays.

The drive was a rousing success, said Summer Flowers, supervisor and educator in the pediatrics unit.

"The response last year was so amazing and overwhelming," she said. "We have just started to feel the crunch need for toys, so it's put us through the year.

"It's just been the biggest blessing for us, because we have been able to come to the storage box, to the toy box throughout the year. It was a huge help for Christmas."

There was also an ironic twist thrown in the mix, which seemed to be replicated throughout the year, said the mother of two.

"I was overwhelmed with the support last year and then it came full circle -- both my kids were admitted to the hospital," she said of her 3-year-old daughter and later 5-year-old son becoming patients where she works. "I can't tell you how many people there were that donated toys that we saw their kids this year. I'm thinking of five right now."

In her case, it provided an especially teachable moment, as Flowers reminded her children why they went out and purchased toys for children they didn't even know.

"'And now you're the kid in the hospital,'" she said she told her son. "It really comes back to you and that's why we get so passionate about it."

Just last week, 5-year-old Spate Sanderson, of Four Oaks, took a spill at home resulting in a broken leg and few days stay in the hospital.

"We weren't planning on coming to the hospital," said his mother, Andrea Sanderson, expecting her second child this coming week.

In the haste to get to the ambulance transporting her son, she said she barely managed to grab a pair of sweatpants. In other words, no toys to keep Spate occupied as he wound up spending several days in the hospital.

"They searched and found a little tractor," Andrea said of the pediatrics staff. Fortunately, that is her son's favorite as his dad is a farmer.

With the holidays just around the corner, the hospital is again extending an invitation to replenish the clearinghouse for toys and games for children who will be spending Christmastime inside a hospital room.

There are a few guidelines to keep in mind, though.

"The biggest thing we can't do is baked goods, candy and visits," Flowers said. "We don't allow the general public to come in and visit our kids. I think most parents understand that.

"But for safety and security, nutrition and diets, used items are not allowed."

Toys should also be unwrapped, giving nurses the discretion to pick out the appropriate thing for a child.

They do wrap presents on Christmas Eve, she pointed out -- "so we do have some Christmas magic."

This community has been especially generous, she said, mindful that health issues don't take a break at holiday time.

"We have a lot of caroling requests, we have a lot of character requests, which are perfect but not for hospitalized kids," she said. "We do have characters. We'll have Santa come in but these are hospital personnel that dress up."

As far as gifts, the bottom line is making sure children have something fun and safe.

The nurses have even come up with a wish list of items for the clientele they serve, which starts with "kids 24 hours old up to 22 years old," she said.

"We have our favorites, the toys that fly off the shelf first and always get picked," she said. "For boys, it's trucks, cars, tractors, anything that can roll.

"Girls love baby dolls. They're always a safe bet."

Items for the younger set can range from infant texture toys (taggies) and soft rattles to interactive books that sing or make noise.

Other popular items on the list include play phones, keys, blankets, play makeup and dress up items, crowns and princess accessories, temporary tattoos, coloring books, crayons and puzzle books.

The unit is also requesting a sound machine, considered very therapeutic, whether keeping the child stimulated or putting them to sleep. Other suggestions are light machines that reflect on the ceiling and a "Go Pod," a pop-up play area for especially active children, Flowers said.

"It's literally a high chair with stuff around it. They can fold it up," she said of the latter.

The donation drive also extends beyond the pediatrics unit this year, as the hospital has added a Sunshine Cart for patients in other areas. Starting this past September, volunteers began visiting floors with the Sunshine Cart, stocked with magazines, puzzle books, emery boards and other items to help brighten the patients' day.

"Many patients don't have family members and visitors with them during the daytime hours, so we wanted a way to comfort them, help them pass the time and bring a smile to their faces," said Donna Archer, director of volunteer services, which sponsors the Sunshine Cart. "You can help our volunteers spread sunshine by donating items for the Sunshine Cart.

"Our most requested items are search-a-word books and adult coloring books and colored pencils."

Donations can be dropped off at the hospital each weekday, by visiting the information desk and requesting someone from the pediatrics unit be called to the lobby to pick them up.