Community Unites to Replace Stolen LEGO Sets for Cancer Patients

Community Unites to Replace Stolen LEGO Sets for Cancer Patients
11-year-old Mila poses with some of the LEGO sets that helped her regain dexterity in her left arm where surgeons had to remove large portions of bone during her bone cancer treatments.

Jacklyn Overby was in shock when she opened the doors of a Jacksonville warehouse in late December.

Earlier in the fall, the warehouse contained hundreds of LEGO sets donated for cancer patients through the non-profit organization V for Victory. But on Dec. 27, the space was empty.

“The LEGOs were just gone. There was nothing in there,” said Overby, the executive director of V for Victory. “It was honestly devastating.”

Overby estimates just over $50,000 worth of LEGO sets were stolen from the warehouse. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is investigating the theft, which includes a thorough review of hundreds of hours of security camera footage spanning October through December.

The sets were part of V for Victory’s Bricks of Love program, which began in 2021 when LEGO donated two semi-trucks full of LEGO sets to the organization. The donation included robotic sets, LEGO roller coasters and rare replica sets such as the iconic Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, which values at nearly $800.

V for Victory partners with local hospitals and treatment facilities to distribute the sets. As patients come in for treatments or hospital stays, they receive a token to pick out a new LEGO set at the V for Victory “LEGO Store.”

V for Victory served more than 825 families in 2023 and distributed more than 2,000 LEGO sets to children and adults who are fighting cancer. That’s more than double the number of families they served the previous year.

As V for Victory closed out its busiest, most successful year yet, Overby says the devastating theft left her feeling helpless and uncertain about how the organization would navigate this setback. She immediately thought of the “warriors” – the cancer patients she serves.

“I’m very connected with the work that we do. It’s very personal to me. Every one of our families I care very deeply for. So, I took it so personally to see that empty room, and knowing how many children and how many families this was going to impact was heartbreaking for me,” Overby said.

As heartbreaking as the theft was, it was nothing compared to the overwhelming response from the community. Word spread quickly. Cash donations and new, unopened LEGO sets started pouring in from Jacksonville and from all over the country. Messages came in from supporters all over the U.S., from New York to Hawaii. Some were from children who wanted to donate their unused LEGO sets.

“Here are some LEGOs I got for Christmas to replace ones that were stolen,” a child from Long Beach, New York, wrote in the card accompanying three LEGO sets she shipped to the organization.

V for Victory organized a donation drop-off day on Jan. 7 and assembled a wish list on Amazon to help replace the stolen LEGO sets. People donated LEGO sets in honor of loved ones they lost to cancer. Some of V for Victory’s own cancer Warriors returned sets they hadn’t yet opened.

A video shared on Facebook after the event shows piles upon piles of LEGO boxes and shipped packages. The positive response surprised and re-energized Overby and her team.

“Seeing the hundreds of people who’ve reached out and said, ‘We’re not going to let this be the end of the program,’… that means so much more than that one person who [stole from us],” Overby said.

WHY LEGO?

Living with cancer certainly isn’t fun or easy. Nine-year-old Thomas was diagnosed with leukemia nearly two years ago and has frequent medical appointments and hospital visits. He lost his hair and sometimes doesn’t feel well enough to go to school.

But picking out a new LEGO set after each medical appointment and building it with his dad while they listen to classic rock is something Thomas looks forward to, said his mother, Lisa Johnson. Thomas now has more than 100 sets, and the V for Victory team calls him their “Little LEGO Master.”

Last year, Thomas’ health took a turn for the worse. He was in the hospital for 38 days, including nearly two weeks on life support. Thankfully, he pulled through, and Johnson was deeply touched when V for Victory staff dropped off some LEGO sets at the hospital for Thomas to enjoy while he was recovering.

“There are so many amazing organizations around, but V for Victory is so close to my heart,” said Johnson. “For kids that can’t leave the house because they don’t feel good, there’s only so many video games and so many things you can do to keep your child occupied. And these LEGOs help not only keep him busy, but they actually help with his occupational therapy as well.”

Similarly, 11-year-old Mila has been fighting osteosarcoma for two years and is about to mark the one-year milestone since her first relapse of the bone cancer. Her father, George Ivanoff, said the LEGO sets are not only a source of joy for Mila but have also helped her regain dexterity in her left arm where surgeons had to remove large portions of bone.

“The Bricks of Love program… really gave Mila a way to approach scary appointments and surgeries and chemotherapy as something to look forward to, instead of something to dread,” Ivanoff said.

In a Facebook post, one mother of a 4-year-old diagnosed with leukemia shared: “When [V for Victory] told me about the Bricks of Love program, I thought it was awesome, but didn’t know just how much it would transform my son’s treatment. I don’t say lightly that this program, along with all of the support from V4V, has gotten us through treatment.”

MORE GOOD THAN BAD

While V for Victory may never fully replace some of the rare LEGO sets that were stolen, they are well on their way to rebuilding their inventory thanks to community donations.

Overby says they still have a few more items on their LEGO wish list and she hopes the community will continue to give generously at vforvictory.org.

In the true spirit of V for Victory’s mission, Overby wants the recent events to restore faith in humanity and hope for the future: “I hope the community will see there is still much more good out there than there is bad.”

By Laura Phelps
Resident Community News

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