LACON, Ill. (WMBD) — Taylor Larson never forgot the nine days she spent in the hospital for surgery as an 8-year-old.
“I was really scared because I knew my parents couldn’t go with me,” Larson said. “The nurses made sure to make a big deal about the fact that my teddy bear could go with me, and then when I woke up from surgery my teddy bear was there with me.”
For something as scary as surgery as a young child, Larson said the free teddy bear the hospital made her gave her the comfort she needed.
“For a little 8-year-old that meant a lot,” Larson said.
Now, she collects stuffed animals every year to donate to OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, and three years ago, founded the nonprofit Cuddles for Kids.
One recipient of a Cuddles for Kids stuffed animal was 2-year-old Bo Poignant, who suffers from autoimmune neutropenia, so he must regularly go to the hospital to have blood drawn.
“He got this animal after he got his blood drawn, and he has always liked it,” Zoey Poignant, first- grader and Bo’s older sister, said.
She said it’s scary for her as well to see her little brother leave for the hospital so often.
“But when he gets home, I cuddle him sometimes,” she said.
Bo’s grandmother, Cindy Miller, is the owner of Midwest Farm Charm in Lacon. She decided to make her new shop a drop-off location for stuffed animals.
“When Taylor reached out to me,” Miller said, “I’m like ‘I believe this is the program that benefits my grandson’ so I said ‘yeah, sure, I’d love to be a sponsor and a drop-off spot.'”
Miller says the stuffed animals gift give her grandson Bo something to look forward to when he has to go to the hospital.
“It makes his poke just a little bit less painful,” Miller said.
Miller opened Midwest Farm Charm over the summer, and said she feels like her community is making an effort to support her shop during the pandemic.
Larson got her teddy bear on a Valentine’s Day, so now stuffed animals can be donated before Feb. 5 for the Annual Valentine’s Day Drive.
In 2019, Larson said Cuddles for Kids was able to collect about 4 thousand stuffed animals.
“The sad thing is,” Larson said. “Those four thousand don’t even last the full year.”
This year, the donated animals will be quarantined before they are distributed to hospital patients.
Stuffed animal donations must be brand new with the tags still attached. To find a map of the drop-off locations, visit www.cuddlesforkidshugs.org.