Donald Spengler delivers packages for a living, but he delivers smiles for fun.
The 55-year-old mailman has been purchasing loads and loads of stuffed animals, children’s books, toys, board games and puzzles and donating them to children at hospitals all around the Western suburbs for the last six years.
“It gives me a good feeling,” said Spengler. “But to be honest, I have gotten a little carried away.”
So far he estimates he’s doled out about 21,000 stuffed animals, all paid out of pocket, always buys brand new merchandise. It’s a quiet – and expensive – passion that no one can quite figure out.
“To all the kids here at Alexian Brother’s hospital he’s Santa Claus,” said Patsy Buckberg, an official with the suburban hospital’s pediatric wing.
“I remember when I first met him: He rolled the big cart into my office and asked I would be interested in working with him,” she said.
At first Buckberg was skeptical, but after she heard that he wasn’t asking for anything in return and he didn’t even care deliver them personally she relented, and she’s happy she did.
"Because of Don every single child that comes into this hospital leaves with some sort of toy or game or something," she said.
It all started in 2004:
“I was in a hospital visiting one of my friends and I noticed in the ER they had children that were crying and I overheard one of the nurses saying I wish we had something that could calm down the kids,” Spengler said.
“So I went to the local Hallmark and bought a little stuffed clown and asked the parents if I could give it to the kid. When I bent down to hand it to him he just snatched it out of my hand, and just like that the tears stopped and he started smiling.”
The event brought so much satisfaction to Spengler that he decided to donate toys on a regular basis.
“A few months into it I used to go into a store and just buy them out of stuffed animals,” he said. “Now I go straight to the distributor.”
It’s gotten to the point where Spengler had to take out a second mortgage on his house to fund his charitable crusade. Right now he has 50 large plastic tubs that are filled with stuffed animals sitting in his garage, and more are coming to his friend Jack Garvin, who owns a carpet and frame company along Spengler’s route.
Garvin lets Spengler use his warehouse to receive deliveries (he’s also the one who encouraged Spengler to talk to the media.)
“It's not unusual for the UPS guy to roll up and deliver 10 or 20 CASES of stuffed animals, which we receive,” Garvin says. “Don is a heck of a guy.”
“I’d have to get a calculator out to figure it precisely,” he says.
What started as a simple gift has ballooned into a multi-hospital operation. Last year Spengler hit 12 hospitals in one day.
“I’m not sure why he does it,” Buckberg says. “I always assumed he had some event in his childhood that made him want to do it.”
Spengler says that’s not the case.
“I’m just one guy, I have no family and the only thing I really do is go to baseball games – not pro, Kane County Cougars,” he says. “This is just something I like to do.”