As a child, my mom would take me and my older sister Layla to Build-A-Bear Workshop for our birthdays. Instead of crafting a stuffed animal for ourselves, though, we would create a furry friend to give to a child in need.
Around Thanksgiving when I was six years old, my sister and I had friends over to participate in the event. Since it was just around Thanksgiving, it was the perfect time to give back on a larger scale. We ordered supplies from a vendor and 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. People sign up so that we have the materials ready and they come between 10:00am to 5:00pm. We include clothing, accessories, the animals, stuffing as well as cards and a gift certificate for the kids to fill out. 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 densely-populated schools in New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, Harlem, Bridgeport, and Detroit, and we 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 specific memory comes to mind, even after hosting these events in many public schools across the country. 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. I clearly remember when 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!” Before this event, these kids had never experienced the act of giving and the feeling of giving. But with a little encouragement and explaining of where these gifts were going, the kids including Jamal felt amazing and even wanted to create more gifts for others. They knew that they were helping someone else and making them feel happy, all while feeling so happy themselves!
I have had the privilege of seeing the life-changing effects of our Stuffed With Love events in many communities. Going into so many different schools with different circumstances has opened my eyes to communities all around us and what one kid can do to brighten someone else’s day. 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.