Last year, we wrote about the awesome friendship between Revolutionary Clinics Director of Retail Operations Jenn Paladino and Fulfillment Coordinator Michael Miller. This year, we wanted to shine an even brighter light on Michael’s incredible cause, Toys AUcross America.
Inspired by Michael’s autistic son Jonathan, Toys AUcross America is the definition of a grassroots organization. It all started in 2013 when 11-year old Jonathan decided he’d outgrown his vast Thomas the Tank Engine collection. Michael suggested that they give the trains to other autistic children. Jonathan agreed and Michael began sending 2 or 3 trains to each child via parents he’d met in an autism community group on Facebook. Michael thought it would be cool for children to get a surprise package in the mail and it turns out he was right!
Shortly afterwards Michael created a Facebook page for the project. This is how Toys AUcross America was born. When Jonathan’s train collection ran out, the duo was so inspired by the smiles they put on kids’ faces they decided to keep the giving going. Moving forward, though, it would not be just about trains. “Thomas trains are very popular among autistic children but not every child wants a train,” Michael explains. He created an account on Go Fund Me to raise money so he could purchase gifts for autistic children based on suggestions from their parents. Michael also received toy donations from both the autism community and people he knew who just wanted to help. The roots of Toys AUcross America were taking hold and starting to grow!
The real progress came when Michael shared Toys AUcross America in several Facebook autism community groups. Parents were enthusiastic about their child receiving a surprise gift in the mail and so were the happy children. Smiles started popping up everywhere on Facebook. So much so, Michael was given the nickname “Autism Santa” which he is still referred to today.
When Toys AUcross America started becoming a household name in the autism community, Michael connected with KultureCity, a newly formed non-profit organization dedicated to “creating sensory accessibility and inclusion for those with hidden disabilities”. “They offered to donate some gift cards to my project in exchange for spreading the word about their charity,” Michael explains. “I joined them officially the following February. Looking back, it was a perfect fit. I had already developed a large following on Facebook within the Autism community but I needed to make Toys AUcross America an official charity. I introduced my fans to KultureCity and they brought us on board as part of their family. Partnering with Kulture City allows me to use their charity to fundraise through Facebook without any fees or the burden of running a charity. You can’t beat that.”
With Kulture City’s help and the support of his many fans and friends on Facebook, word quickly spread about the great things Michael was doing with Toys AUcross America. In 2016, ABC News even named Michael their Person of the Week!
The mission of Toys AUcross America is “Putting a smile on the face of autism one toy at a time.” Since donating those first trains, Michael estimates he has shipped over 10,000 gifts which means he’s personally sent over 10,000 smiles!
Michael also encourages his Facebook fans to donate to Kulture City so he can continue doing his work. In November alone, his fans contributed over $10,000. It turns out there are now many trees in the forest. The donations come directly back to Michael from KultureCity in the form of Amazon gift cards. which he uses to purchase Christmas presents for the children of Toys AUcross America. As Michael explains: “When you typically donate to a charity you have no real way of knowing the specifics of where your donations are going, who it’s helping or if you are paying for a business luncheon. The photos of the smiling children allow me to show a direct impact of a person’s donation. My request from each parent is to share a picture on the “Toys Page” of their child with their gift, hopefully smiling. So, after each fundraiser I can bombard social media with pictures of smiling children which shows donors just how much good their money is doing.”
Since we’re so close to Christmas, we truly appreciate “Autism Santa” taking the time to share details with us in addition to working his full schedule at our distribution center in Cambridge. As for the boy who inspired the whole concept of Toys AUcross America, Michael’s son Jonathan is now an 18-year old man. “He’s doing well,” Michael says. “He takes courses at Seem Academy in Stoneham where he’s learning life building skills, mixed in with some online college courses at Bunker Hill. Occasionally I will have him participate in a contest but for the most part he has moved on, plus I have Jared to help me now!”
CLICK HERE to learn about the amazing connection between Michael, Jenn and her son Jared that ended up being the reason why Michael has been such a terrific employee for us and why it’s such a pleasure for us to share his story with you.
If you’d like to support Toys AUcross America, please like them on Facebook and look for Michael’s updates on his next fundraising campaign with Kulture City! Thank you, Michael!!