Gina Godfrey (right) with a Herbie Fund patient and his mother
More than 657 children from 101 countries have received specialized medical and surgical assistance thanks to local residents Gina and Paul Godfrey. And, with their inaugural Walk for the Children at the Toronto Zoo this month, the Godfreys are hoping even more children in need will be supported.
The family-oriented walk is just one of a handful of events that support the Herbie Fund at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), an organization that the Godfreys founded in 1979. The fund was established in response to the plight of Herbie Quinones, a seven-month-old baby from Brooklyn, New York, who was a born with a birth defect that caused his esophagus and windpipe to be jammed so close together it was difficult for him to breathe while eating. The Godfreys had read Herbie’s story in the Toronto Star, and Gina recalls being outraged because SickKids was offering an innovative procedure that could heal him, but Herbie’s family could not afford the flight to Toronto for the surgery.
“I thought it was ridiculous in 1979 that a child was denied surgery,” says Gina.
Upon hearing of the family’s dilemma, the Godfreys initiated a fundraising campaign to bring Herbie to SickKids and eventually raised the $17,000 needed to get Herbie the treatment he so desperately needed. When Blue Cross caught wind of the Godfreys’ fundraising efforts, the organization ended up paying for Herbie’s surgery, and the additional monies were used to create the foundation for what would become The Herbie Fund.
“The first couple of years was us going on the phone and asking people, ‘Can you help us out?’ ” recalls Gina. In 1983, the fund held its first Mistletoe Ball, a successful annual black-tie event that targets mostly a corporate crowd. The fund also has a community-driven Herbie Day, which celebrated with a BBQ at SickKids this year, but Gina says, “We felt we needed another event. We wanted something grassroots,” and so Walk for the Children was created. “I knew some people at the zoo, and they were more than happy to help. It’s both educational and fun. I call it ‘edu-tainment.’ ”
The walk will wend its way through the zoo and has a dozen schools involved. An estimated 600 people will stroll through its Indo-Malaya and African exhibits on Oct. 23. Passports will be given out and allow participants to collect stamps along the route at designated stations to receive a gift bag at the end of the walk. There will also be a stop at the African Savanna picnic site for lunch, entertainment and activities. As for how much money the event is expected to raise, Gina says, “In an ideal world? — $100,000.”
When asked about the origins of her passionate commitment to serving others, Gina reveals, “My mother said I always brought in stray animals. When something’s not fair, I want to do something about it. Animals and children don’t have their own advocate. That’s why the Walk for the Children was such a perfect match.”
The Post salutes Gina and Paul Godfrey for their efforts to ensure that children have access to life-changing medical treatments.