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Teddy bears galore and more: High school students collect 1,050 stuffed animals for children in need

Oak Harbor High School freshmen collected more than 1,000 stuffed animals in their Teddy Bear Drive with Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor. Students pictured from left to right are Carly Crowther, Suzanne Kaltenbach, Krista Alamo and Deja Bunch. The pile of donated stuffed animals was deep enough to cover students Joseph Thayer and Nathan Larsen. - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor High School freshmen collected more than 1,000 stuffed animals in their Teddy Bear Drive with Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor. Students pictured from left to right are Carly Crowther, Suzanne Kaltenbach, Krista Alamo and Deja Bunch. The pile of donated stuffed animals was deep enough to cover students Joseph Thayer and Nathan Larsen.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

There’s nothing like a fuzzy stuffed animal to cuddle with in tough times. Thanks to the work of the freshman class at Oak Harbor High School, 1,050 stuffed animals will find new homes with children in crisis.

For two and one-half weeks in November, freshmen collected new and used stuffed animals as part of their Teddy Bear Drive. The colorful heap of toys represented all types of stuffed animals, from Winnie the Pooh to Baby Bop to Webkins.

The students are in the midst of bagging the donations to give to Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor so that members can clean and repair the toys before donating them to social service agencies including Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse, the Department of Social and Health Services, Child Protective Services and local fire stations. The stuffed animals will be given to children and adults in order to provide comfort in times of crisis. Emergency personnel will give them to children who were in accidents or injured “to give them a sense of comfort and something warm to hang on to,” said Jeremy Day, high school counselor.

After stuffing a few bags with the animals and pointing out animals similar to ones they’d owned as children, a few freshmen volunteers reminisced about their own favorite stuffed animals. Many had been given a beloved stuffed animal at a young age and still owned it. Nathan Larsen said he was given a little blue elephant at birth and has kept it ever since, as has Carly Crowther with a stuffed cow her aunt gave her when she was 4. Deja Bunch still has the stuffed dog she received at age 3 and Krista Alamo continues to love the stuffed kangaroo her dad bought for her in Australia.

Joseph Thayer got a big green dinosaur when he was born.

“And for a long time, it was way taller than me,” he said.

Suzanne Kaltenbach said her favorite childhood stuffed animals were passed down from her parents. As the students pass along their own beloved stuffed animals to children in need, Alamo said she hopes the children who receive them feel special.

“If a kid just went through a disaster and lost part of a family, they should have something to hold on to,” Larsen said.

“I thought maybe someone else could get the excitement I had when I got my first animal and wanted to share the love,” Kaltenbach said.

The students nodded in agreement as Crowther said she wasn’t using her stuffed animals anymore, “and I knew somebody else would appreciate them.”

“I feel like it would go to a better use because the people these are going to don’t have as much so I want to give them the joy of a stuffed animal,” Bunch said.

 

Finding and filling needs

The drive also represents a competition among the freshmen. The class is divided into islands and Justice Island won by collecting 405 of the stuffed animals.

“We created these competitions to give them a sense of pride for their island,” said Jessica Boswell, an English teacher. She added that these competitions help foster a sense of community among the students at school and in the Oak Harbor community.

“And it also helps them see needs in the community,” Day said, adding that once they see these needs, the drive allows them to help.

They chose a stuffed animal drive instead of the traditional canned food drive because last year’s freshmen responded well to the coat drive they did, said Cynthia Allen, teacher. Collecting items like toys and coats connects better with the younger high school students who are just growing out of childhood themselves, Boswell added.

Sandee Oehring, a member of Soroptimist, said the group was thrilled to receive more than 1,000 toys. The group has done a teddy bear drive for years but they normally only collect bears from Soroptimist members and their families, Oehring said.

“It’s a cool service project for the kids,” Oehring said.

“And our kids totally rocked,” Boswell added.

 

Key Club food drive

The community service doesn’t stop here. The annual Key Club canned food drive is going on now to benefit the North Whidbey Help House.

Third period classes compete for a pizza party and the winner is determined by the point values of the items they bring rather than the number of items. The highest points are given for items on the list of requested items from the Help House.

The food drive runs through Thursday, Dec. 13.

 

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