‘Can Crush Cancer’ bottle drive for Griffin’s Guardians is Sept. 25-26 in Cicero – Eagle News Online

CICERO — When Kevin Toms received his first cell phone, he immediately changed the picture on his lock screen to a photo of himself with his best friend, Griffin Engle.

“They called each other Batman and Robin together on the football field. They started in Lil Kickers when they were three,” said Lori Lake-Toms, Kevin’s mom.

Griffin Engle and Kevin Toms played soccer together as kids.

Griffin never gets a chance to share photos with Kevin on Snapchat or Instagram. He will never get involved in all the teen scandals Kevin is dealing with these days. He was not allowed to blow out 14 candles on a cake on August 18 of this year.

“We should have played soccer, hanging out, getting into trouble and being teenagers together,” Kevin said in a recent YouTube video. “But cancer has taken all of that away from us and a lot more.”

Less than a month after turning 7, Griffin died on September 12, 2014, after battling a rare brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme.

“When Griffin died, it changed my life forever,” says Kevin, now 14.

Now Kevin is paying tribute to Griffin by raising money for the childhood cancer nonprofit that bears his name: Griffin’s Guardians. For the second year in a row, Kevin is hosting the Can Crush Cancer bottle ride. He made $5,000 last year and hopes to match that goal this year.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Griffin’s Guardians to cancel its two major fundraisers, the Gold Tie Gala and the Soccer Shoot-Out. The gala has been canceled again this year.

“That was troubling for him,” said Christine Dallmann, event coordinator for Griffin’s Guardians.

Kevin has vowed to help the English make up for some of the revenue they’ve lost. He teamed up with Griffin’s Guardians to coordinate a COVID-safe bottle and drive where people can drop off their return goods without having to interact with each other.

“He wanted to do it in September because it’s… [Childhood] Cancer Awareness Month,” Dallmann said.

Lake-Toms said the family was stunned by the success of Can Crush Cancer in 2020. Kevin collected two trailers of return goods.

“We didn’t even expect it. We thought, ‘If he makes $500, that would be great,’ but he got $5,000,” she said.

“I was overwhelmed,” Kevin said. “It was cool to see that the community could come out and do something like this. I was quite proud.”

The Toms family is no stranger to fundraising for Griffin’s Guardians. Kevin’s older brother, Kyle, helped raise money for an electric toy car to replace a wheelchair for pediatric cancer patients at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“It’s something that has affected our entire family. It’s something we don’t want anyone else to suffer the way we had to see the Engles suffer,” Lake-Toms said.

Although it took several years for Kevin to really understand what his friend was up to – “I feel like I was too young to really get my head around it,” he said – he entered Griffin anyway.

“Kevin would visit Griffin in the hospital if other kids were scared. Kevin wasn’t—he’d be in bed with him, playing video games, getting into trouble,” Lake-Toms recalled.

“He was my best friend. We did everything together. I didn’t want him to be lonely there,” Kevin said.

One of the photos Kevin cherishes is of a surprise birthday party Griffin’s friends threw for him at the hospital. When the kids jumped out to surprise Griffin, he ran straight into Kevin’s arms.

Griffin Engle hugs his best friend Kevin Toms at a surprise birthday party for Griffin. (Courtesy of Lori Lake-Toms)

After Griffin passed away, Erin Engle gave Kevin some of her son’s belongings. They’re sitting on a shelf next to Kevin’s bed today.

“He was the nicest you know,” Kevin said.

Drop off your bottles and cans from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM on Saturday, September 25 or from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Sunday, September 26 at Griffin’s Guardians, 8116 Brewerton Road, Cicero. For every bag of bottles and cans you donate, you can enter a draw for a $250 Visa gift card. Virtual donors can participate in the fundraiser and also enter to win. For more information, visit griffinsguardians.org/can-crush-cancer.html.

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