Hilary Key, owner of The Toy Chest. Photo by Jaime Sweany


Two strangers on an identical mission—educating children through the power of play—are using their new nonprofit, Project Play, to ensure children have the right toys in their homes to combat developmental delays, help with special needs, and encourage typical developmental milestones.

Last year, friend-of-a-friend social media connections brought together Bloomington and Nashville, Indiana, toy store owner Hilary Key and Indianapolis-based pediatric occupational therapist and pre-school teacher Angie Burck.

“I saw that she was trying to do the same thing that I was,” recalls Key, owner of The Toy Chest, which has operated in Nashville since 1970. Key, 27, bought the store in 2014 and a year later opened a second store in Bloomington’s College Mall. “Angie and I got together, realized our different strengths, and that we could work well together,” she says.

Key mostly handles the business end of things while Burck focuses on donations and referrals, but their shared foundation, Project Play, is completely focused on finding the right toy for the right child at the right time.

In nearly 25 years as a pediatric therapist at Riley Hospital for Children, and now at Central Indiana First Steps Early Intervention Program, Burck, 47, witnessed a need for appropriate toys in her clients’ homes. “Sometimes it comes down to food or toys,” says Burck of the limited funds her clients had available. “So I found myself constantly buying toys.”

The two note that play helps build social skills, fine and gross motor skills, imagination, empathy, and math and language skills. Couple that with different types of play—imaginative, competitive, cooperative, and constructive, for example—and a well-wishing donor can quickly recognize the need for some expertise in matching the right toys to the right children.

The Toy Chest offers a half-off purchase price on any second toy bought and donated to Project Play. Additionally, there are drop-off locations for new and lightly-used toys in three cities—Nashville, Bloomington, and Indianapolis—and Project Play volunteers can pick up toys if donors make arrangements through the project website.

Donations can be made at The Toy Chest (125 S. Van Buren St. in Nashville and at College Mall in Bloomington) and in Indianapolis at 6658 E. 10th St. For more information or to make a referral, visit projectplayinc.org