By Ellie Keating

If you were to ask a child to show you his or her most special toy, you would probably be presented with a stuffed animal. Children bond with stuffed animals more than they do with other toys, as their soft and cuddly nature provides feelings of comfort and security. As kids grow up, they no longer see any use for these toys and get rid of them. Some people give their old stuffed animals to young relatives. Others sell them at yard sales or garage sales, or on popular retail websites like Ebay or Amazon. Some find that their old stuffed animals may not be worth enough to sell and don't have anyone in their personal lives to give them to, so they decide to donate them to charity shops such as the Goodwill or Salvation Army. However, many of these stores can only take new or professionally cleaned stuffed animals for fear of allergens or tiny parasites being contained in the stuffed animals’ fur. This leaves many people wondering, “What should I do with my old stuffed animals?”

That’s where the Teddy Bear Brigade comes in. The Teddy Bear Brigade is a program launched by Gleaning for the World, a nonprofit organization that provides aid of all kinds to those in need and has repeatedly been named “Most Efficient Large Charity in America” by Forbes Magazine. They collect new and gently-used stuffed animals, wash and clean them, and donate them to children in distress all around the world. Some of the recipients of these toys have lived in poverty their entire lives and have never had a toy of their own, while others have lost everything they had in natural disasters. All children who receive a stuffed animal from the Teddy Bear Brigade have one thing in common: they are in desperate need of a friend. According to the organization’s website, “A stuffed animal is not just a toy. A stuffed animal is a friend and confidant. By listening to how children interact and talk with their new friend, parents are able to get insight into how children are processing the trauma. This insight allows parents to help address their children’s emotional needs.” The Teddy Bear Brigade collects about 50,000 stuffed animals each year and tries to ship a whole pallet (16 large boxes containing about 1,000 stuffed animals in total) with each load of medical and disaster supplies, according to Michael Justice, the organization’s director. Justice has stated, “[Stuffed animals] are such a wonderful therapeutic device for children. I have seen the eyes of children light up when they are handed one.” The Teddy Bear Brigade accepts donations by mail and in person at their headquarters in Concord, Virginia. For more information on the organization or to hold your own stuffed animal drive, visit their website at gtfw.org.