Four years ago — on the day after Thanksgiving — Hallie Wofsy’s daughter Layla turned 7.
Hallie bought stuffed bear kits, including accessories, clothing, gift bags — the whole deal. Layla’s friends came over, and they spent a few fun hours in her Westport home creating stuffed bears.
They gave them to Kids in Crisis, the Greenwich organization that — among many other good works — provides a home for abused or neglected children.
Four years later the project — called “Stuffed With Love” — has boomed. Each year — still the day after Thanksgiving — 150 families meet. They make over 350 stuffed animals. Al DiGuido — the founder of Al’s Angels — includes them in his gifts to children challenged by cancer, rare blood diseases, AIDS, domestic violence and financial hardship.
“Westport is a very charitable community,” Hallie says. “Lots of people do amazing things, and they show their children what community service is all about.”
Stuffed With Love goes one step further. By involving kids in the creation of the animals — not simply collecting used or unwrapped toys — they learn the value of investing time and energy in an important cause.
Last December, Hallie made a New Year’s resolution: to expand Stuffed With Love into a national organization. With Al’s encouragement she set out to encourage youth clubs, sororities and like-minded groups to organize their own stuffed bear-making events, to help needy children all over the country.
The not-for-profit — called the Kidz Give Back Foundation — charges $25 per participant. Each person gets a stuffed animal, and all the stuffing materials and accessories. (There are a dozen or so animals to choose from).
Organizers set up 5 stations: stuffing, dressing, naming, card making and gift wrapping. It’s a fun, gratifying project — for the stuffers as well as the children who soon receive the stuffed animals.
But Hallie’s own kids — Layla, now 11, and Maya, 8 — want to do more. They hope to speak around the nation, spreading the word about Stuffed With Love (and the importance of youth leadership) everywhere.
“Lots of charities give trendy toys to kids at the holidays,” Hallie says. “But there’s something special about getting a stuffed animal. There’s nothing better at the holidays.”
Especially one that’s been stuffed with love.