Kristine and Jason Coffey moved from California to the small community of Lincoln in 2008. After moving in and settling down, their family grew by one with the birth of their daughter, Kali Grace, then later it grew again with the addition of another daughter, Bailey and a son, Kole.
Living just down the road from Dakota Community Bank & Trust (DCB&T) in Lincoln, the Coffey family was quick to find a second family at the bank always welcoming them and their children with open arms. But when their daughter Kali turned two and a half doctors discovered a tumor in her brain. Kristine recalls, “They flew us out that night to Minneapolis to the children’s hospital and I think she had surgery within the next day or so. From there, it was just 15 months of surgeries, medication, chemotherapy, radiation. She probably had a good 10 surgeries between her brain and her spine. It was always back and forth. When all of this suddenly happens, you don’t know what to do like, ‘Oh my gosh, I still have a house to take care of. I still have another child to take care of. I have this and that.’”
She goes on to say, “The bank called and said, ‘Could we set up a benefit account for you?’ Well, we wouldn’t have thought of that. So we said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ When she got sick, they were right there. They (DCB&T) would call and ask if we would need a ride. We were struggling towards the end with getting to the cities. The easiest way for Kali was to fly. She was having a lot of pain, and we were struggling with coming up with what to do. We had to go to the bank for something and right when we left, Sarah called and said someone here from the bank wants to buy you a flight to get to the cities for her treatment that we had to do.”
On May 3rd, 2014, Kali was granted her Make-A-Wish® wish. Her Make-A-Wish was to meet Minnie Mouse, but because she had been so sick the Coffey’s had been unable to travel to do that. Kristine recalls, “They actually brought one of the Minnie Mouse’s from Disneyland here. I could not have told you who was in and out of my house that day, but I distinctly remember that Sarah (Bakke) from the bank was here and Lacey, who worked at the bank in Lincoln at the time, was here. I remember seeing those two. Dale (Pahlke) was here because Cindy (Schaaf) was the other Make-A-Wish person for our daughter. She was doing part of the Make-A-Wish along with Matthew Jahner from the bank. I just distinctly remember them coming in and out of the house, and most people might have thought it was odd that our bank was here, but we didn’t… because they were always here.”
The next day, on May 4th, 2014, Kali passed away in the Coffey’s living room surrounded by her loving parents.
That same year, in her memory, the Coffeys created the Kali Grace & Minnie Mouse Toy Drive. The toys that are collected during the months of August through December are distributed between the two local hospitals, Sanford and CHI St. Alexius, where Kali was treated. “Kali was diagnosed at CHI with her doctor, so we take them up to the kid’s floor at St. A’s. Then over at Sanford, we take them over to the oncology clinic and then over to the hospital side on the kids floor as well. We keep everything local,” says Coffey. The toy drive always kicks off on Kali’s birthday, August 13, and runs through Christmas.
The toy drive never turns down a new toy and collects items from ages zero to 18. Coffey says that because they deliver to oncology patients, they cannot have used toys, many times due to a compromised immune system; and while those patients also cannot have stuffed animals, those type of toys usually go to children that are in the emergency room over the holidays instead. “We don’t just give these to kids with cancer. We have given to a day old baby to an 18 year old kid, no matter why they are there. It is for them. It got us through the holidays knowing that when Kali passed we could keep her memory alive. We remember being in that position, seeing how excited a kid was to get a toy and for a moment they didn’t have to focus on being sick, they were just excited to get a toy.” Though the Coffeys don’t normally get to meet face-to-face with the children who receive these toys, due to HIPPA restrictions, they are able to best match toys based on approximate age and gender to get appropriate gifts for each child.
As 2019 was the sixth year of the toy drive, Coffey reminisces how for the longest time, DCB&T in Lincoln had been their only drop off location. “They have been there from day one. When Kali passed, we never even had to ask. They said, ‘We would be a drop off. We would collect toys. We will do it. We will help you out.’ It was a relief. We didn’t have to do everything, and we had them there to help us out,” she recalls. In recent years, they have also added DCB&T’s Bismarck South branch and a local downtown florist shop as additional collection sites.
“I never felt like a customer. It’s going to sound cliché, but I feel like I’m part of the bank. I am never treated like a customer or a number. I am Kristine. I am Kali’s mom. I am Bailey’s mom. I am Kole’s mom. They know me. I feel like if you don’t get that treatment at your bank, then you are at the wrong bank,” she says of DCB&T.
Kristine and Jason say that while it has not gotten any easier, they have learned to cope with it in different ways, one of those is continuing the toy drive in her memory. The Coffeys believe that they could not have done it without the people within the community and are hoping to get more drop off locations via word of mouth each year down the road to continue to grow the toy drive in their daughter’s honor. “People can donate through the Kali Grace Minnie Mouse Toy Drive amazon wish list – where it is shipped directly to us, the drop off locations, and then the toy drive account at the bank (DCB&T) as well.”
To get involved with the Kali Grace & Minnie Mouse Toy Drive, please reach the Coffey’s via their Facebook page.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director