Pamela Mastrota | Source: The Toy Foundation/The Toy Book

by JENNIFER LYNCH, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association

Pamela Mastrota joined The Toy Foundation in June as its new executive director, bringing with her an extensive C-level background in nonprofit leadership. Mastrota shares how the Foundation is continuing to explore new ways to deliver philanthropic support and the joy of play to kids in dire situations worldwide, and to better support the members of the greater toy community.

Jennifer Lynch: How are you tapping into your past experiences to help elevate the work of the Foundation moving forward?

Pamela Mastrota: I had the privilege of building and working with a diverse team while at Make-A-Wish to expand its medical and community outreach throughout New York State and ensure culturally competent volunteers were matched with kids to expedite the wish-granting process in a more equitable and family-centric manner. This experience will help as we focus on expanding the Foundation’s two newest initiatives: the Child’s Play Grants for Play Projects in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) and an industry-wide diversity and inclusion (D&I) program.

JL: How exactly does that experience translate to the Child’s Play program?

PM: I’ve seen first-hand the daily stresses that families go through by being in hospitals and how therapeutic play can be in just letting kids be kids in these settings. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the need for incorporating play into trauma-informed patient care, especially for those in underserved communities.

Our first round of Child’s Play grants, totaling more than $215,000, went out to 11 children’s hospitals to create play-based spaces in pediatric emergency room waiting areas; enhance mobile-sensory playrooms for patients with autism, behavioral, and intellectual and developmental disabilities; and implement children’s medical play into the hospital setting to increase patient understanding and emotional preparedness for medical treatments. We expect to announce our second round of grant recipients later this year.

A new Toy Foundation program gives toys to kids in hospitals. | Source: Adobe Stock

JL: Creating equal opportunities for kids everywhere to play has always been at the center of The Toy Foundation’s work. Can you talk about how the Foundation is now focused on creating equal opportunities for all in the global toy and play community through its new D&I programming?

PM: With more toy companies ensuring that kids see themselves and their communities reflected in the toys they play with, it only makes sense that we work to ensure that a culture of inclusion and equity is reflected across all business practices of the global play community — from hiring to promotions, supply chains, and more.

A newly established Toy Foundation D&I committee has held planning sessions and a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ideas lab to create an official charter identifying the four key areas where our industry-wide DEI work will be focused: leadership, education/training, talent development, and communication. In September, this committee also came together with The Toy Association’s existing D&I committee to collaboratively move plans and projects forward.

JL: The Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards are known for recognizing the top toys and kids’ properties, but it also serves as the No.1 fundraiser for The Toy Foundation. Moving forward, how are you working to bring this message to the forefront?

PM: The TOTY Awards have always been a critical Toy Foundation fundraising event, but that message has often been overshadowed by the awards program itself. We are focused on changing that. It is just as important that the event be a celebration of the terrific products our members create as well as the philanthropic work they do. With so many new initiatives underway for the Foundation and good happening across the toy industry that highlights the healing powers of play, there is a lot to celebrate.

RELATED: Pamela Mastrota Joins The Toy Foundation as Executive Director

JL: Play Your Part events have been a key focus for the Foundation in the past, but the pandemic put them on the backburner. Do you still see opportunities for these events in the future?

PM: Absolutely, and I look forward to attending my first one! Play Your Part events offer toy companies a critical touchpoint to the underserved kids in their local communities and exemplify the generosity of the toy industry from coast to coast. Our 2019 Play Your Part events made a positive impact on more than 40,000 kids, and we are already looking ahead to reengaging Toy Association member companies to join us in more cities when it’s safe to do so.

In the meantime, we are continuing to offer the toy community new opportunities to make an impact through their product and monetary donations via our signature programming, such as the year-round Toy Bank and even hosting virtual toy drives on platforms like The Toy Association’s 24/7 digital marketplace, Toy Fair Everywhere. Any opportunity we can find to serve those in need of the vital commodity of play, we’re exploring.

JL: How do you incorporate play into your own life and how are you infusing that idea into The Toy Foundation’s work moving forward?

PM: Play benefits the physical and emotional well-being of everyone. During the pandemic, it has been so important to set aside time for play and decide on what fun meant to me and my family. That starts with scheduling fun time after dinner or on the weekends. Coming up with ideas to inspire play and greater communication, like puzzles, board games, and painting, has also become an interest with my kids. It’s also been important to combine fun with other activities including virtual exercise classes and play dates with my family and friends.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” I’m excited to bring this spirit of play into my work at the Foundation and ensure we bring as much joy and comfort to kids everywhere through the experience of toys and play.

To learn more about the latest Toy Foundation initiatives, visit

This article was originally published in the October edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!