St. Charles family starts toy drive in memory of 18-month-old son who drowned last year
To say that Tommy Stopka was a happy kid is an understatement.
"He was just the happiest kid that could be," said his mother, Jen Stopka, of St. Charles. "He would do anything to make somebody laugh. He was always running, moving and trying to make you laugh about something."
Tommy drowned in June 2020 near the couple's home. He was 18 months old.
On Friday -- which would have been Tommy's third birthday -- Stopka and her husband, Tom, delivered an abundance of bicycles, toys and gift cards to the Salvation Army's Tri-City Corps in St. Charles. The couple started the Toys for Tommy toy drive as a way to honor Tommy and bring joy to needy families in the area.
"We wanted to spread as much joy as we could," Jen Stopka said. "We would like to continue this as an annual tradition moving forward."
The Stopkas were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support the toy drive generated.
The drive collected 14 new bicycles along with two scooters, four computer tablets, more than 200 gifts (board games, Hot Wheels cars, Barbie dolls and other toys) and $1,200 in gift cards.
"It's heartwarming to see how many people actually came together to help kids in need," Jen Stopka said. "It's something positive to do each year on his birthday. Tommy always wanted to make people laugh, and we are glad he is still spreading joy into the world. Being able to donate to the Salvation Army Tri-City Corps makes us feel like he's still reaching the kids he should have been friends with someday."
The couple's 18-month-old girl, Mae, also has a bubbly personality.
"She's just as happy as Tommy was, but she's much more dependent," Jen Stopka said.
"She's definitely not as adventurous as her brother."
Last year, the couple bought some toys for Tommy for his birthday and donated them to the Salvation Army's Tri-City Corps.
"We wanted to be able to share our love for him with other kids in the community," Tom Stopka said.
He and his family run Trellis Farm & Garden in St. Charles and Campton Hills. He is a fourth-generation St. Charles resident.
Tri-City Corps Lt. Dena Smith and her husband, Lt. Scott Smith, said they are honored the family chose the organization as a way to keep Tommy's memory alive.
The Tri-City Corps will distribute Christmas gifts and food to needy families Dec. 15-17, including more than 1,400 kids.
"We are incredibly blessed to have this experience and to share and make connections within the community because that's what this is about," Dena Smith said.
"And certainly to do something like this not only respects the legacy of Tommy but it is reaching so many kids in the community. So it's a great thing. And we are incredibly blessed and fortunate that they're willing to do this."