A Wittenberg University student shops for kids at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus thanks to Odd Lots.

Wittenberg student goes shopping for toys to comfort kids at hospital

A 19-year-old Wittenberg student gave back to a Columbus hospital that helped her through a difficult time in her life.

Leah Bennett, 19, spent Friday shopping for hundreds of dollars of toys at Big Lots in Springfield as a patient champion for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. She was one of seven chosen from around the U.S. to take part in a shopping spree to provide toys and other items to comfort children currently receiving treatment at the hospital.

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“They’ve been there for me for a long, long time,” Bennett said of Nationwide. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without them so I’m here trying to give back.”

Bennett was treated at the hospital as a teenager after facing mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. But she said the treatment she received from Nationwide’s Behavioral Health Services helped her cope and she is now enrolled at Wittenberg on a music scholarship.

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While she was a teenager when she received treatment, she said spending time in a hospital can be frightening. The toys will give children a brief respite and some comfort, she said.

“It’s important for kids to know we’re out there thinking about them,” Bennett said.

The hospital in Columbus serves more than 600 patients daily, and Bennett was picked as a patient champion both because of her story and her interest in helping other children in a similar situation, said Niki Shafer, senior vice president of outreach at Nationwide hospital in Columbus.

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“Leah has a history with our behavioral health program and Big Lots recently made a $50 million gift to expand our behavioral health program and it’s just a natural fit for them both,” Shafer said.

Big Lots, based in Columbus, donated the toys Bennett picked out Friday and is now in its third year raising money to support the hospital, said David Campisi, CEO of Big Lots. The company has raised millions since 2015 to provide support for the facility because of its mission, he said.

“It’s a very important cause, something people in Ohio should be very proud to have and one of the best children’s facilities in the U.S., if not the world,” he said.