Big Bird, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Teddy Bears…..bringing joy to nursing home residents

Picture is of a lady and her granddaughter who donated close to 300 stuffed animals. 

It was an unusually wet weekend. It was raining for the fourth day in a row. I parked, sort of illegally outside of the nursing home.  I struggled to carry a large trash bag, half torn by the flapping wind, and a few smaller sacks filled with stuffed animals. It was the kind of day that I wanted to sit by a fire with a warm blanket and a cup of hot tea.  I entered the front door of the assisted living facility. I have been here many times. Many residents have no family, no friends and no visitors. I knew that the stuffed animals had a special mission,   to whisper a message, “Someone cares about you.”  Many faces looked somber. But from previous visits, I knew the discussions were poignant stories of courage overcome with faith.

I liked to ask what they did to cope when life brought trouble. They told me how they felt His invisible hand. Their God is constantly “on-call.”

“God has given me a good life.”
“What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” (Psalm 56:3)
“I know God heals.”

While sitting in wheelchairs,  their hearts are filled with memories – family outings, a baby on a mother’s lap, afternoon sunlight in beloved  North Carolina or parades in  Philadelphia communities.

Two women cuddled their bobcat stuffed animals that seemed to cry a little “meow” in their  arms. Another woman locked the stuffed animal’s arms around her neck like a baby holding on to his mother. Mattie hugged her doll and seemed to say, “Are you hurt, child?”  A lady who seemed to not be able to see or speak said feebly, “thank you” when I placed a cute rabbit in her arms. A very pleasant woman smiled at me.  I said, “Would you like a doll?” The large doll was toppling from the top of the large plastic trash bag I was carrying. The doll’s arms seemed to reach out to be held by Mary. The doll’s dress uncannily almost matched the flowered print of the housecoat she was wearing. “I am going to name the doll Mary, that’s my name.”

I then got on to the elevator. A man said to me, “You are doing good work.” I gazed quizzically at him and then realized from the open elevator door, he had seen the exchange with the “doll lady” and me. He asked, “Where do you get the dolls and stuffed animals?”

I said, “Lots of people respond to my craigslist postings, some came from a synagogue collection, and some from friends.” He said, “Oh, what synagogue?”

I said, “Kol Emet.” He said he belonged to a synagogue on Veree Road. As he left the elevator, his eyes filled with tears. “My mother passed away two days ago.”

I then went on my way to the third floor. My sister and I started the music and then I said, “Wait, I think everybody needs a dance partner.” We gave everyone a stuffed animal. They were thrilled. I had run out of stuffed animals at this point but thank goodness, everyone in the room had received one.

Then one of the staff members came up to me and said, “The man that you spoke to on the elevator, from the other synagogue, wanted you to have these stuffed animals. They belonged to his mother. He was in her room packing her things and asked me to give you all of these.”

Oh my goodness, another 8 cuddly critters, in very attractive gift bags. His mother was no longer in the nursing home but from above, she wanted her gifts to be shared.

Several of the women who had already received a stuffed animal, saw the new ones arriving and asked, “Can I have a few more for my friends on the second floor?”

Thanks to the surprise from the “synagogue man” – of course!

I think his mother was guiding her son. She knew where those stuffed animals were supposed to go, right in the home where she had lived. And, sadly, I did not get to thank him for his gracious act of kindness.

It was time for the afternoon meal. Everyone clung to their stuffed animals. Many did not want to put them down while they ate. They continued to hold them.

I went outside in the chilly drizzle, my trash bag now felt feather- light. I felt confident that the Kol Emet stuffed animals lifted the spirits of some heavy hearts.

The quote below is by William Shakespeare about kindness. I appreciate all of the acts of kindness of the people who have helped with the project.

The quality of mercy is not strained,

it dropeth as the gentle rain from heaven,

upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:

it blesseth him that giveth and him that takes.





10 thoughts on “Big Bird, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Teddy Bears…..bringing joy to nursing home residents

  1. Sent to me from a military mom in North Carolina:

    Hi, Trish –
    I received your message about blankets and stuffed animals that you sent. I will see if we have any blankets laying around but for sure, I have some stuffed animals. I guess it is time to rid myself of my stuffed bear collection – and to such a good cause. I will mail them to you but it may take a few weeks for me to get things together. What a wonderful idea and so good of you to organize this campaign.
    Will be back in touch.
    My best,

  2. It’s funny how the aromas of certain things take you back to being a little kid. The scent of Bryl Cream seemed to be in the air at one of the nursing homes. They probably don’t even make that product any more. Remember the ad that used to say “A little dab will do ya.” My brothers used to slick their hair back with that product. And the smell of a cigar reminded me of my dear Pop Pop.

  3. Patricia,

    I usually sit in front of the television for most of the day or listen to the old Big Band Sounds and Frank Sinatra on my radio. I heard you were coming. I call you the “Doll Lady.” I forgot that you are really the “Stuffed Animal Lady.” I like to put stuffed animals on my bed like I used to do when I lived at home. When you came the last time, I put the teddy bear on my dresser. It is a great conversation starter with everybody who comes into my room. They all comment on it. And the dresser reminds me of all of the times that I used to powder my nose in the mirror and get all dolled up to go out with my husband. Back then, I used to wear a really dark lipstick and I was really skinny.

  4. From one of the kind donors of the stuffed animals:

    My daughter used to have set up a zoo with all the animal babies, and we would buy tickets and take the tour. They all are/were particularly loved by three wonderful little girls who are now women. Sigh . . .so now I give them to you so you can share them with others.

    Barbara C.

  5. CAN YOU HELP US TO COLLECT NEW OR GENTLY- USED STUFFED ANIMALS AND LAP BLANKETS that are given to Seniors and Vets in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers?

    Our mission is to visit nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, to read heartwarming stories and share memories. Stories and activities that remind the residents of the good old days….the days when there was little technology, boys played wiffle-ball, hamburgers were 25 cents and a good book was considered a very special gift.

    Each resident receives a lap blanket and a stuffed animal to keep. Isn’t that what we did as kids – snuggled up with a blanket and stuffed animal on the sofa,as our parents read us a story?

    For many Seniors and Vets, they have no one to listen to their stories, dreams and hopes.

    In our discussion of stories frim the past, opportunities arise for them to tell their own stories. Today I heard about about an old house in the mountains, life as a sharecropper in the South, having to flee London when the NAZI”s were bombing England, and a mother who made outfits for her children and then made a matching bear from the same fabric as the little girl’s dresses.

  6. Patricia,

    I am a recreation activity director and I love my job. We all love doing creative things with our residents. But some times, I have to admit we get a little bored with each other, us with the folks and them with us.

    That is why it is nice to have someone like you come in with a fresh new idea. I love the way you visited the Bed-Bound residents who can not come out of their rooms for the normal activities. We have been brainstorming some new ideas, and then you came in and went from room to room and lounge to lounge and passed out the stuffed animals and colorful picture books.

    Thank you so much. It is was like a breath of fresh air to have you visit us.

  7. Trisha,
    Your ideas of the picture books and stuffed animals are right on target. They both use all of the senses. Just like little kids love someone to read to them, our residents like that, too. And the stuffed animals take them right back to their lovely childhood times. Many thanks.

  8. Patricia Gallagher,

    We do reminiscing activities here at our facility and we have some props. But what you are doing is very different. I know you love what you are doing and it is so nice that your mother, sister and sometimes your 20 year old son joins you. It is nice to see a family working together to try to make a difference.

  9. Today was Veteran’s Day and I visited a nursing home and participated in a celebration for those who served our country. I met a woman who showed me her military discharge papers and commemorative military medals from 1943. She had been a pilot. Wow, that is impressive. I think she was in the United States Air Force.

  10. Patricia,
    Hello! I am writing to request information on how I can donate some beautiful stuffed animals for the seniors you visit – I really really want / NEED! to connect with this program!

    A friend recently gave me an article about you – and I instantly recognized your name…you’d visited my MOPS group @ Fairview Village Church in Eagleville, PA – maybe 6 years ago now – and you generously shared your angel pins and book about how to raise children on a reasonable budget. I speak on behalf of some 80 new & beleaguered moms – WE LOVED THEM BOTH! I now have four children, and rely on the themes of your message – as a Christian, and a frugal and hands-on mom…still such a blessing.

    My mom, my best friend, passed away suddenly in December 2009, and I now have many of her precious stuffed animals that she kept pristine. I would LOVE to share them with your program, and help coordinate a drive if that’s needed as well. I am the creator of several fund-raising and outreach projects myself (though not as fruitful yet as yours!), and know tons of helpful & like-hearted folks that would love to contribute to your project. Scouts, church friends, family, crazy crafters, 4H-ers, teachers, kids…good people that want to help others, but need a ‘champion.’ YOU!

    So, if you have a moment, and could share how we can get our fuzzy wuzzies and blankets to you, I’d greatly appreciate it. Thank you for all you are doing – you are an inspiration.

    🙂 Kristen Kerwin

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