After tragedy, Kelley Kassay found a way to channel that hurt into good—and give back to the community that helped so much through her son’s cancer journey.
“He was always joking, he was sarcastic, there were times where we were inpatient in the hospital and he wouldn’t get out of the bed because he was so sick and depressed from being a young boy confined to a hospital,” she told 8News.
Kassay’s son Mason was just 5 years old when he was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer.
“He started with a limp and said his back hurt. We went to many doctors over the course of weeks and found out that it was stage 4 Neuroblastoma. He did go into remission very quickly so we had almost 4 years of remission,” Kassay said.
Mason’s cancer eventually came back, but it never broke his giving spirit. Mason’s mom shared this story with 8News Anchor Katie Dupree about her son:
“A parent called me and said, ‘I just want to let you know that Mason gave my son this game and it’s brand new.’ And I was like, ‘What? Okay…he just asked for that.’ So I said, ‘Well what did you do with the game?’ He goes, ‘I lost it, mom’. So apparently this little boy wanted it. So he manipulated me into getting it, and then lied about it. But you know, if you look past all that, that’s a typical kid. But he was doing it for a good reason. He wanted to give to other people. It made him feel good. And he thought he was making a difference for those kids.”
Sadly, Mason was 9 years old when he relapsed, and passed away when he was 11. A few months after Mason passed, Kassay’s friend came up with the idea for Mason’s Toy Box.
“She said ‘let’s go to UVA hospital and deliver toys to the kids that are inpatient,'” Kassay said. “And I said ‘you’re insane, I don’t want to go back up there,’ she’s like ‘it’s going to help with your grief!’ So she posted a status on Facebook…and I shared the status…and the community response was overwhelming. It’s been going ever since.”
Mason’s Toy Box serves any family impacted by childhood illness or disease from Charlottesville to Roanoke, all of the hospitals in Richmond, and the Ronald McDonald House.
Why does she do it?
“Because you don’t know when it’s going to be their last birthday or their last Christmas,” Kassay said.
Kassay is truly is a remarkable woman. Not only does she work full time as a pediatric nurse, but she also puts in an additional 40-60 hours a week year-round with Mason’s Toy Box. She’s been doing this every day since Mason’s Toy Box started in 2011.
She says, “I can’t imagine not having this. Not having his face plastered all over Central Virginia. The loss, you know is the ultimate to lose a child. And I know I’m not alone in that boat but his spirit lives on through so many people and he’s impacted so many people’s lives and he continues to do so.”
Every November, Mason’s Toy Box hosts their biggest event of the year—a party with food and music, where volunteers wrap large boxes that get dropped off at area businesses who sponsor them. The toys later get sorted and brought to hospitals year-round.
Kassay says their greatest need in terms of donations is for teens and babies. They often get overlooked, and they need something to keep them occupied while in the hospital, too.
Mason’s Toy Box relies on donations from the public and its many volunteers to keep going. Volunteers collect, sort, and help distribute the toys to keep Mason’s generous spirit alive.
“We are really in need of businesses, sponsorships, partnerships, to help us with fiscal support so what we can continue to you know, house the items, have operation space like we have here,” Kassay told 8News. “I’d love to have our program in every hospital throughout the us. Nationwide. I’d love to see that day. I want to live to see that day. I know it will happen. I just want to be here to see it.”
You can learn more about how to donate to Mason’s Toy Box, along with how your business can become a partner to help Mason’s generous heart live on at masonstoybox.org.
As we approach ‘International Women’s Month’ in March, 8News is honoring women doing remarkable things in our community. After soliciting you, our viewers, to nominate your friends, family and co-workers, we’ll be introducing you to the four finalists over the next several weeks.