Happiness, Delivered: How One College Basketball Player Is Making Hospitalized Kids Smile

If you could have three wishes, what would they be?

For Atlanta-born Tanner Smith, the answer was clear from a young age. First, he’d want a golden retriever, he wrote in a fourth-grade essay called My Three Wishes. Second, he would play basketball in the NBA. And lastly, he’d help kids with cancer by making them laugh.

A little more than a decade later, Tanner is turning these wishes into reality. His family still has Griffy, their Golden Retriever (that wish was easy to grant, say his parents). Tanner plays hoops for Clemson University — and his friends and family believe he could go pro one day. And Tanner’s Totes, the non-profit organization that

Tanner started with his family at age 12, delivers gifts to young, hospitalized patients across the nation, helping brighten their day — and possibly even improve their recovery.

From Dream to Reality: How Tanner’s Totes Got Started

When Tanner was 2 years old, his father Craig Smith was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. An only child, Tanner grew up watching his father undergo aggressive cancer treatments, eventually having to leave his career as a dentist and skip out on family vacations and his favorite activities, like golf and skiing.

As Craig went in and out of the hospital (he’s now cancer-free, but still deals with Graft-versus-host-disease, a complication in which his white blood cells attack his own body), Tanner took note of one thing that always managed to make his father smile — no matter his health status.

“If anything was sent [to my father] — any card, any flower, anything with color — it was immediately on the walls,” Tanner says in the next episode of Everyday Health, airing October 8 or 9 on your local ABC station. “It was immediately by the bed and immediately there to cheer him up.”

And that got Tanner thinking: What if there was a way to spread that kind of joy to kids? His parents thought it was “cute” when he first wrote in the fourth grade about wanting to help children with cancer, but when he mentioned it again in the sixth grade, they paid attention.

“My parents sat me down and asked me if it was something I really wanted to do. So we started brainstorming,” says Tanner.

After speaking with a family friend who worked with a children’s hospital, the Smiths learned that hospitalized pre-teens and teens often get looked over in terms of care packages and cheer compared to younger children.

So at the age of 12, Tanner filled up some tote bags with goodies (gifts that the Smiths purchased themselves), and he made his first delivery to Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta — Tanner’s Totes was born. Nine years later, the goodie-filled tote bags get sent to 2