As a child, my mom would take my sister, Maya, and me to Build-A-Bear Workshop for our birthdays. But instead of purchasing a gift for ourselves, we would create a stuffed animal to give to a child in need with the organization Kids in Crisis. For my eighth birthday, I asked my parents if we could bring all of my friends to participate in the event rather than having a traditional birthday party. Since my birthday is around Thanksgiving, it was the perfect time to give back on this larger scale. We invited about 30 of my friends and family to participate in the inaugural event, which we now host almost every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving. At our most recent event, we had 400 kids create stuffed animal gifts for those in need.
Over the years, we realized how great it felt to give back and how important it is to feel empowered to contribute to our community. But we know that many people do not have this opportunity. So, in 2010, our family made a New Year’s resolution to form a non-profit organization, Kidz Give Back, to host our Stuffed With Love events and help kids across the country feel the joy of giving back. Through the generosity of a grant, we have been able to take our events to inner-city schools in Atlanta, Harlem, Bridgeport, and Detroit, and hope to continue expanding into new communities. We provide all materials necessary for kids to create stuffed gifts, at no cost to the schools or students, and allow participants to choose the charities that will receive their creations.
In 2016, Kidz Give Back visited five schools in Harlem, New York, reaching a total of 500 students. One child, Jamal, was a passive participant, showing little emotion or expression for the first half of the event. I decided to keep an eye on him, hoping that his mood would change. Soon, the students had completed stuffing their gifts and dressing the animals with the t-shirts, jeans, and sunglasses provided in the toy-building kits. We collected all of the gifts that were now ready for distribution, and it was time for the teachers to bring their students back to class. At this point, I looked back to where Jamal had been sitting and noticed that, as his class was getting up, he remained seated. Jamal wanted to help us clean up and asked if there was any other way that he could help. He wanted to do more; he wanted to continue to be the active participant he had transformed into during that last half-hour.
At every event, we provide students with a survey to provide feedback on their experience. When I returned home from Harlem, Jamal’s survey quickly came to my attention. When asked, “Did you enjoy the event?” Jamal responded, “This was the BEST day of my life! I have never given to charity before and I am so happy and feel so good about helping someone else! Please come back so I can help more kids feel happy.” Another student said, “I want to do it again soon!” Just like Jamal, one opportunity to help another child was not enough for most of the students. Once the students had experienced the feeling of helping others, they felt inspired to help more and make an even greater difference in their community.
I have had the privilege of seeing the life-changing effects of our Stuffed With Love events. Being empowered to give back is an invaluable experience for children, and we aim to provide this opportunity to as many as possible. We hope you will join our Stuffed With Love Family to help us reach our goal of hosting at least one school event in each of the 50 states. For information on how to support our events, please visit the “How to Participate” section of our main menu.