12/19/2014 06:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How I Turned a Traumatic Accident Into an Opportunity to Help

Madison Zavala

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Have you ever had an experience that inspired you to immediately take action?

In September, I went to see a talk by Dodger's pitcher -- and my favorite player -- Clayton Kershaw. He and his wife talked about their organization, Kershaw's Challenge, and how everybody can make a difference in the world by following whatever passion or talent they have. The energy and atmosphere was amazing. I was so inspired. I started to think about what I could do to help people in my community.

I immediately thought of my sister Karis. Seven years ago, she and my parents were hit by a car when a driver stepped on the gas instead of the brake. Karis was only 2 years old. Ambulances came and took her separately from my mom and dad. The paramedics gave her a Lisa Simpson doll to comfort her during this scary time.

I was at school that day, so I wasn't part of the accident, and part of me has always felt some guilt about that. Thankfully, my family survived, but it was a traumatic time for all of us. After hearing about Kershaw's Challenge, I thought about how I could turn the accident into something positive and help other people in the process.

I remembered that Lisa Simpson doll, which Karis still has today. I had the idea to collect stuffed animals and dolls like that to give to other kids who are going through things like like my sister went through.

My mom and I contacted the local fire department to see if they would accept the toys, and they said they would. I had a few toys of my own to donate, but I wanted to have more of an impact.

I decided to reach out to people in our community through a Facebook Group for people in our neighborhood. I joined the Group two years ago after a neighbor told me about it, and it's been really helpful. I've used it for things like asking for random items I need for school projects, talking about local businesses or helping Karis sell Girl Scout Cookies, so I posted to see if anyone had any gently used toys to donate.

madison zavala fb

I got an amazing response and my project took off from there. People offered up bags of stuffed animals. They started telling their friends about the toy drive. One woman, Elizabeth Arian, volunteered her dance studio as a drop-off location.

So far, we've collected more than 500 plush toys. I want this to get as big as it can get so it help more people. I see this project as a light at the end of the tunnel after the accident that almost took my sister and my parents. I am so grateful they're alive and that I can turn this experience into something that benefits our community.

If you would like to donate, please contact Toys will be donated to the Glendale Fire Department to give children who experience traumatic events.