I know you love crocheting cute stuffed animals, and if you’re like me, you probably crochet a few more than you really need (oops!). That’s why I like to feature awesome charities that collect handmade stuffed animals! You can made a few extra to send in, and feel really fabulous about making a child’s day!
That’s why I’m really passionate about sharing charities that want stuffed animals and put them to great use!
This quarter’s featured charity is Project Teddy Bear, a program that both helps inmates crochet stuffed animals (a life-changing experience for them… read more about this aspect in my post about Knitting Behind Bars) as well as children who receive the animals.
Let’s learn about them!
About Project Teddy Bear
Project Teddy Bear is a restorative justice project in which inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, MN teach one another to crochet animals and hats to be donated to children and their siblings at the Ronald McDonald House.
The project grew out of inmates’ desire to do something positive and give back to the community. A couple of the guys knew how to crochet and others were interested in learning. Dr. Poch, a psychologist at the prison, reached out to Dr. Shlafer at the University of Minnesota Medical School with the idea.
Dr. Shlafer’s research focuses on children’s outcomes when parents are incarcerated, and so this service project was a natural fit for her and her students. Yarn and supplies are collected and donated to Project Teddy Bear through students at the University of Minnesota and get delivered to the inmates. Using patterns, the inmates create amazing critters! All of the critters are specifically picked with little ones in mind. For example, small birds were made for kids to hold in their hands while getting blood draws; hats were made to cover kids’ heads after they lost their hair from chemotherapy treatment.
Every few months, the critters get delivered to the Ronald McDonald house and children get to come and pick out their favorites. The children at the Ronald McDonald House get so excited when they see the animals laid out and ready to be taken home with them. The animals create a bright spot in what can be a very hard time for children and families alike.
The inmates also benefit from participation in the program as it gives them a feeling of purpose and helps to break
down borders to reach a shared goal in the prison.
How you can help
This program is supported solely by donations from individuals in the community.
You know that every quarter, FreshStitches picks a new charity in need of receiving lovingly made, crocheted stuffed animals. Last quarter’s drive, animals for Kids Need to Read, was a huge success… and I am over-the-moon excited about this one!
This quarter, we’re making stuffed animals to put in the backpacks distributed by Comfort Cases to children in foster care. Did you know that most foster children move from foster home to foster home with their belongings in a trash bag? Doesn’t that absolutely break your heart?
Comfort Cases is dedicated to providing foster children with a backpack (and some supplies) of their very own. And we’re going to be making stuffed animals to add to the packs! For children without families who can rotate through a number of homes, a handmade stuffed animal is just a little reminder to a sweet child that they’re cared for.
When I began organizing FreshStitches charity drives, my first goal was to connect with local foster care systems. However, when I contacted them, they told me they were simply too overwhelmed to collect and distribute stuffed animals. That’s why a charity like Comfort Cases is so important. They’re collecting and distributing supplies for foster kids, a task that is too logistically complicated for the overworked foster care systems to do themselves. I am so happy to have found them!
(As a total aside, I highly recommend the touching movie Butter, about an adopted girl who doesn’t really believe she’s been adopted permanently… there’s a super-sweet moment when she finally decides to unpack her little suitcase.)
How to Donate
We’ve connected with Robyn, a Comfort Cases volunteer, who will be collecting our stuffed animals to put into backpacks. She has a current request for 450 backpacks… so start crocheting!
This sweet duckie is April’s pattern is available here!
When you have finished an animal (or a few!), mail them to: Robbyn Lessig, 3671 Cottage Pines Lane, Spring, Texas, 77386.
I know we can get together a huge collection! And I know we specialize in crocheted animals, if you want to sew or knit a stuffed animal, feel free to send those along, too!
We also have a giveaway that just started today for Ami Club members! You can win the yarn you’ll need for May’s pattern as well as a big collection of eyes!
Head on over to this thread to enter! I’ll pick a winner Tuesday, April 25th!
Sorry – the giveaway and drive are closed now. If you’d like more info about donating handmade items, take a look at this post.
There are a lot of charities in the world doing really amazing work. I’ve written about how to donate stuffed animals, but frankly, most charities benefit from donations of cash. Large organizations are typically more efficient with cash, not only because they are able to better use the resources (for example, a charity that helps the homeless can usually purchase food at a better price than you as an individual can), but also because money avoids the cost required in shipping and transporting physical goods.
It’s why, for my most recent sample sale, I sold my stuffed animals and donated the money to Heifer International. The cash allowed Heifer to buy a dozen animals, a far greater gift than what they could have accomplished with some plushies!
Mirena recently organized a Craft Bazaar in her hometown, Athens Greece, to benefit Amimoni, an organization dedicated to children with vision impairments and developmental disabilities. It’s a cause close to Mirena’s heart, the organization helped her daughter see… taking her daughter’s vision from 0 to 5/10.
I thought the idea of organizing a craft fair with charity in mind was brilliant! So, I reached out to Mirena to ask if she had any tips to share with us in case you’d like to try this in your own community! A huge thanks to Mirena for chatting with us today!
I organised the bazaar together with my friend Chistina Vaggele, who has been in the jewellery business for 30 years now. We raised almost 1000 euros for Amimoni, which is a huge success! Especially for our first fair!
We chose as venue a coffee shop located near our homes but not to the centre of the town so that our guests had easily-accessible parking. This way we were also offering coffee and wine. The coffee shop also provided for a very large table for the display of our goods.
For the promotion, we printed flyers that we gave to every single student of the school our children attend and to stores. We also printed posters and we put them to the school, to the coffee shop and to various stores. Of course we posted on our social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) and Amimoni did too.
We also organized a side event: as we were anticipating that most or all of our guests would be women (given of the goods we were offering – jewelry and stuffed animals-), we called upon Irini Fthenaki of House of Color who did a mini seminar on what colors we are suggested to wear according to our complexion.
Tips for organizing a charity-focused Craft Bazaar
1) Pick your cause: Get in touch with them, tell them what you want to do. They won’t say no! They will probably provide assistance with the organisation of the event. Ask them for their logo to put on your promotional material. Ask them for help in the promotion of the event (they can put an announcement on their website, on their Facebook page, they can put flyers and posters to their offices etc). Decide if you are giving all or portion of the income.
2) Pick the date: Consider picking a date close to a holiday when people are likely to buy and bound to help! That’s why we picked a December date for this event.
3) Pick the venue: Where will you hold the bazaar? Consider:
is there enough room to display your goods?
is the parking easy for your guests?
are there passers-by or is it more secluded?
what is the fee for holding your event there?
4) The promotion: social media is your number 1 go-to place for the promotion of your event. You can also print posters and flyers. Don’t forget your acquaintances!
5) Plan for an extra side event that will attract more people to your bazaar: a mini seminar, live music… Find someone who would want to advertise themselves through your event.
6) Have plenty of goods to sell! This requires a lot of advance planning!
7) Don’t forget your packaging! Simply because it is a charity event it doesn’t mean it has to be sloppy! Maybe one of your guests is buying a gift and would like it wrapped.
Ideas for the Future
What I would change for next year in our bazaar? (Yes, we are doing it again!)
Have more stuffed animals available to sell (the truth is I had only 1.5 months to prepare the whole thing!)
Have a book with photos of the stuffed animals so that people can place custom orders
Select a venue where there are more passers-by
Organise a mini concert during the event
Thank you so much, Mirena!
Have you ever organized a charity fair? Any more tips to share?
I’m incredibly passionate about sharing the love of stuffed animals with children in need.
In this post, I’ll be sharing tips for finding a local source to receive your handmade creations.
The comfort of a plush
I love stuffed animals and I totally believe in their power to comfort. You had a favorite as a kid, didn’t you? One that you slept with and was like a security blanket?
I had a bear named “Teddy” (creative, huh?) and then I moved onto a purple hippo when given to me by a teenage boyfriend. (It was just like this one, but bigger. Can’t believe you can still find them! I got rid of mine along with the boyfriend).
And now Maddie has a puppy (named “Puppy”) that she sleeps with and feeds in her high chair.
There’s just something so special about having a soft toy to call your own. It’s always there to give you a snuggle.
My love for stuffed animals is why I do what I do: I think everyone deserves that special someone.
Choosing donations sites, carefully
It’s heartbreaking to think about, but there are so many kids who don’t have that special toy. Kids in poverty. Children whose families have lost everything they own in a fire. Foster children who are moved from house to house without any possessions of their own. There is a need for donated plush toys. Especially handmade ones that are created with love.
However, we need to be selective in where we send our animals. After the Newtown shooting, I helped organize a toy drive of handmade animals to send to Connecticut. I was devastated to discover that pretty much everyone had the same idea, and when I visited, I saw piles of animals by the side of the road, left like trash.
Since then I’ve learned that it’s best to NOT donate toys during a time of crisis. First responders and resources are tied up doing other things, and our best intentions often create an organizational nightmare, which of course, isn’t what we intended! For more details and my thoughts on the issue, please read An honest talk about charity, donating and the Philippines.
It can be difficult to find a charity that accepts stuffed animals. Because any item given to children has safety concerns, many hospitals have chosen to not accept donations.
How to find a place to donate locally
You don’t have to wait for an Ami Club drive to donate! I know that our drives involve shipping fees… money that could be spent making an impact in your area!
A few types of places are often eager recipients of stuffed animals. Call the chapter/office closest to you and ask if they are accepting donations and where you can drop them off. Look for:
Police and Fire Departments (first responders often distribute a toy to a child on the scene of an incident to reduce fear and anxiety)
Foster Care agencies (usually with your county’s Childrens and Family Department)
Children’s Hospitals (enquire about allergies and age-appropriateness, below)
Women’s Homeless shelters (as they often have children as well)
School counselors (either to distribute at the in counseling sessions, or they may be aware of children needing a little something extra to take home)
Questions to ask
A surprising number of charities aren’t able to accept stuffed animals due to safety or allergy concerns. So, in addition to asking whether they accept toys, ask some of the following questions:
What ages are the children you serve? (if they are mostly infants, consider making toys with baby-safe eyes)
Are there any fiber restrictions? (many places request that animals be machine-washable, and to avoid wool for allergy concerns)
Is there anything additional I can add to make the gift special? (For example, some hospitals may be thrilled with a sweet card with well-wishes)
What is your timeline? When can I drop the toys off? Do you have a minimum number of animals you need?
Note from Wendi – I’ve been told by many that their local hospitals really like Warren the Charity Bear – for reasons I didn’t anticipate when I designed the pattern. I found out that children who have chest or abdominal surgery are required to cough frequently after their surgery, and to support their incision with a pillow when they do this. Warren is just the right size and shape for that. Nurses also like that he has very short arms and legs – nothing that will get caught or snagged on the many tubes and monitors that kids in the hospital often have to deal with. So keep those tips in mind if you’re making toys for kids in the hospital – and definitely talk to someone at your local hospital to find out what restrictions/needs they have.
Crocheter Petit Remy makes gorgeous plush robots (using the Sprocket the Robot pattern!) and donates a portion of her sales. I love watching these cuties pop up in my instagram feed, so I asked if she could come over to the blog and tell us a bit about her process!
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Hey! My name is Theresa Cassar, I’m 32 years old from Toronto, Ontario (Canada). I’m a wannabe knitter and avid crocheter. Seriously, I bring my WIP bag with me pretty much everywhere just in case I can sneak in a few minutes of crochet wherever I’m at! I am also a mom of two little boys, hence the trying to fit in making time in small increments, or at night when they’re sleeping.
How did you get the idea to make robots and donate a percentage?
I took an amigurumi class at a local yarn shop called The Knit Cafe in Toronto. The class project was making your robot plushie pattern! Thank you for your clear, easy to understand patterns!! So the robot was the first amigurumi I made. I posted a picture of it on my personal Instagram feed and had a lot of friends start asking me if I could make the robot or other items for them. So I started making a few as gifts and then thought that I’d love to give a little bit of each sale to a cause near and dear to my heart.
In fact, one of my friend’s sons was among the first to receive a robot and was the one who named him Derek. Also, my shop, Petit Remy, is named after my dog Remy who was a rescue and survivor of Hurricane Katrina. My original intention was to have a percentage of items I sold be donated towards animal rescue organizations, but for the robot, autism seemed like a better fit. I will be releasing a toy this Fall that will be animal rescue focused!
That’s so awesome! Can you tell me a bit about the cause?
For the robot I chose The Carson Foundation, a local charity founded by my husband’s cousin which supports families affected by autism spectrum disorders with funding for therapies or resources that they need. I love that I know exactly where the funds are going and that they are in really good hands.
Any tips for people looking to sell their plushies?
My biggest advice is to learn to take great product photos. You may be the best crocheter or toy maker, but if that doesn’t translate into how you present the work then the reality is people aren’t going to look twice. Everyone has their own aesthetic so play around to find yours! I struggled with this when I first started out, but feel like it has evolved over time and I’m finally hitting my stride. Generally though, good lighting is important and experiment with photo editing apps to make your photos really shine!
That is such a great tip! It’s so important to convey the feel of the piece in a photo… the customer can’t feel it themselves! What do you like most about making softies?
I think making soft toys is really gratifying! They are usually quicker to make than a large scale project like a blanket, as you make a bunch of small pieces first to then put together. I also love that each toy has subtle differences, so they all kind of have their own quirks and personality to them. To me, it makes each one special.
This post originally appeared on November 20th, 2013. But it’s such a great cause, I’m reposting it with additional information!
What happens to a child in the foster care system when they turn 18? They’re ‘adults’, and are set out into the world alone, and without a network of family or social resources.
If those kids are awesome enough to get themselves into college… who sends them care packages? Who do they call if they need an emergency $50 for a surprise textbook?
In most cases, they have no one to turn to.
Makes you sniffle, right?
That’s why I love Foster Care to Success, an organization that supports foster care children who have ‘aged out’ of the system. The organization collects money for emergency funds and runs other great drives to support this often-overlooked population.
The Red Scarf Project collects scarves from September 1st – December 15th every year, and then distributes them to a foster student on Valentine’s Day.
Isn’t that sweet? Can you imagine how special you’d feel if a handmade scarf with a sweet note showed up on your door? And what a boost that would give to your semester?
That’s why I’m knitting one!
I didn’t feel like I had the time: the Kit Club packages, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, planning for the holidays… and then I told myself “Balarky! You can make the time! These college students don’t have families!”
And surprise… I’m finding the time!
Can you spare the time?
Nothing fancy is required, just a simple red knitted or crocheted scarf. Check out the guidelines, here.
This link tells you where to mail the scarves, as well as the not-too-hard guidelines (basically is red, gender neutral and about 60″ long). Pattern suggestions, too!
Sweet extras, such as a hand-written note, are welcome!
Every once in a while I get an email from someone saying they love to make softies, but don’t have any children in their lives right now the right age to get them. They want some suggestions for where they can donate their creations.
There are so many wonderful places!
firefighters and police departments like to keep some on hand to give to traumatized children
homeless and family violence shelters
orphanages – both in the US and overseas
This is just a the tip of the iceberg! I put out a call in a recent newsletter asking readers where they give, and I got a bunch of great responses!
So let’s start with a few general guidelines and things to think about, and then move into the specific suggestions offered by readers.
The number one bit of advice I have is to ask first! Some organizations might have restrictions that you could never anticipate. Depending on the ward, some hospitals can only take toys that are made of hypoallergenic materials – they can give you a list of what is and isn’t allowed. One suggestion that surprised me (but made perfect sense) was to keep arms and legs minimal so there’s less to get hooked on tubes and wires.
My local shelter asked for toys to be small – they pointed out that each kid has a bed and a small shelf and that’s it – and when they leave they leave with a small bag. They can’t have a stuffed animal that takes up half the bag. They also asked for some teen-appropriate softies, saying the teens are often happy to have a softie to hug, but don’t want something that looks too babyish – a request that totally broke my heart. So contact the organization and ask first.
And remember – your favorite organization might prefer cash! I’ve lost count of the number of cat and dog quilts that have been made and auctioned off at shelter fundraisers! Every one of them makes me so happy!
Sarah of Dolls and Daydreams has some really great info about donating dolls abroad here.
And now – here are some responses from readers. . .
Lots and lots of people mentioned the Knit-a-Square organization. They collect knitted and crocheted squares to be joined into afghans, and also handmade stuffed animals and dolls – all going to AIDS orphans in Africa. Definitely take a look at their website – they have the infrastructure to distribute a LOT of love. 🙂
Julia writes. . .
I am about to send two quilts to Quilts For Kids, an organization that donates quilts for kids in hospitals. I have tons of baby-ish fabrics in my closet and feel great that they’re all going to a good cause.
After I found out about QFK heard a lovely story about a family that had premature twin babies in a NICU in New York–the NICU also had quilts and both parents commented on how comforting this was.
Beatrice writes. . .
Currently I am in the process of making lots of “Warrens” which will be donated to orphanages and cancer hospitals in Egypt. I have been living in this country for 18 years and donated lots of items and cash to help the poorest, which sadly are numerous. This time though, I feel really happy, because with every lovely bear finished I try to imagine a little girl or boy who will love what I have created.
Liz writes. . .
A local organization that I donate time, money, and material things to is Hope’s Door, in Dallas. It’s a shelter for battered women and their children. They do a wonderful job and are a great bunch of dedicated, insanely organized people. Throughout the year, Hope’s Door does everything from toy drives to fun runs to auctions. If you’re going to post a list, I’d love for you to mention them, and I know they would appreciate it, too! They always have needs because, sadly, they always have clients.
Cindy writes. . .
There is a woman who works with my husband who belongs to a small church that gives away bags of food once a month. For Christmas I donate lots of stuffed animals and dolls. And also at Easter I donate Easter things – bunnies and chicks, etc. I’m so grateful I have the time and money to do this.
Candy writes. . .
Here’s a suggestion of where to donate softies; local hospitals and local woman’s shelters. I have been making and donating for several years now to both. The shelters love the animals or dolls because lots of times the families are rushed away from their homes because of fear and abuse and don’t have time to grab things of love and importance so having something to cling to (softie) is sometimes a life saver. This goes for kids as well as the women. Hospitals love any type of donation, whether it be softies, knitted things for babies, sewn things for babies and blankies. I know there are lots of other places to donate but these are my favorite.
Laura writes. . .
Wildlife rescue groups sometimes request crochet artificial nests for orphaned birds, bunnies, possums etc. Your readers can see if they can find one locally that needs some.
I have seen cat and dog rescues that take handmade fleece blankets to shelters so the animals don’t have to sleep in those harsh metal cages without any protection and warmth they can receive from a blanket. Just make sure to contact rescue first to obtain size wanted.
An excellent charity is your local domestic violence shelter. These families have fled their homes with nothing. They can use new blankets and quilts ( I have donated many fleece blankets for infants and toddlers), new handmade softies for the kids, hats gloves and scarves in the winter. This is an extremely rewarding charity to donate!
Ann writes. . .
I donate softies and dolls at my local hospital pediatrics ward and in the Emergency Room waiting area where children often are waiting with adults. I also go to the local pediatric office, pediatric dentist office, the sheriff’s department and the fire department.
Joan writes. . .
We are a small group of ladies that gather once a month to sew to donate. Some of local items we have donated are fleece hats given to our pre-school. We used a pattern from Nancy’s Notions. They loved them. Kid capes were given to our local day care centers. We borrowed a doll from the pre-school and made doll clothes, diapers, blankets, a mattress for a crib, etc. for their room. This month we are making pillows for cancer patients. We are making a port pillow, heart shaped pillows, rectangle pillows. These are delivered to local hospitals that give cancer treatments. One month we did walker bags for a local nursing home. We did lap quilts for shut-ins. We have made burp cloths and receiving blankets and bibs for Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership.
We like to find local spots we can donate for we have found postage is soo expensive.
Finally – a couple of specific patterns.
I designed Warren the Charity Bear especially for donations. He can be made out of any kind of fabric, with any kind of stuffing, and has lots of possible variations so you won’t get bored if you decide to make a lot of them – like Kathy and many others have done. 🙂
Kathy made the Warrens in this photo and Caroline made the ones in the top photo – both for Knit-a-Square.
I’ve also heard that Warren makes an excellent post-op cough pillow for kids. People who have had chest or abdominal surgery are taught to hug a pillow when they cough, to help support the incision and ease pain. Warren is just the right size and shape for this. 🙂
The easy charity quilt I made for Craft Hope is finished and on its way. I love how it turned out!
Craft Hope is an organization that partners with different organizations to collect handmade items for donation. I know lots of crafters like making items to donate and there’s always a demand for patterns for easy charity quilts, so when I made my Craft Hope Quilt I decided to share the how-to so you could make one too, if you’re so inclined.
It’s an easy and fun technique – great for beginners of all ages. I’ve been posting lots of in-progress photos as I go and I’ve been getting a ton of questions, so I’m going to answer them here all in one place. . .
How are you piecing and quilting the blocks all at once?
That is the magic of Quilt As You Go. It really is the perfect no-stress way to make a scrap quilt of this kind.
Yep. I have (had) a lot of scraps and I store them in baskets sorted by color – which made it really easy to make this kind of quilt without making a HUGE mess in my studio. It was more of a manageable mess. 🙂
If you did all the quilting while you pieced, how are you backing it? Do you have to quilt it again?
Here’s what the back of the quilt looks like.
I backed it in Cuddle Fleece – delightfully soft, cuddly, and easy to work with. I used it as the back of a quilt for my daughter a little over a year ago and she loves it so much that she basically told me I should never use anything else. 🙂
You can see that the front is nice and crinkly after washing – every seam is also quilted so it crinkles up nicely.
The back has a lot less quilting. I sewed all the finished, quilted blocks together, pressed the seams open, backed it with the fleece, basted it (I use safety pins) and then quilted 1/4″ from each block-joining seam. I like the kind of frame-ish effect around each block and I like the big grid on the back.
Each block is a 10″ square, finished, so the full quilt is 60″ wide and 90″ tall. You could very easily make it bigger or smaller just by adding or removing blocks. You could also change the size of the blocks, but I don’t think I’d make them much bigger – a 10″ grid on the back of the quilt works very well but there might be some bagging or sagging if you went a lot bigger. I’ve done some quilts with 12″ blocks and that works fine too.
Why don’t you spray baste?
I tried it once (many years ago) and it was a disaster. The fumes are pretty intense and you’re supposed to do it outside – but there’s no clean place in my yard to do it and I don’t have a clothesline to use for that method. So I tried it inside where the fumes almost killed me. I got overspray in my carpet (which was very hard to wash out) and then the adhesive gummed up my needle the whole time I was sewing. The product has probably improved a lot since then (I don’t even remember what brand I tried) but it will be a while before I’m ready to try it again. 😛
How do you pick your binding on a quilt with so many colors?
I really love to use black and white or dark grey bindings with a rainbow quilt like this. I actually would have preferred a nice crisp black and white stripe for this, but I didn’t have enough of that and I needed to ship the quilt out to make the deadline so I went with the black and white gingham-ish print you see in the photo above. I love black and white with bright colors!
With winter and the holidays coming, a lot of organizations are calling for quilts – especially twin quilts and crib quilts for kids in need and lap quilts for seniors. This is a fun technique for an easy charity quilt that even beginning quilters can make successfully. Kids can do it too! Give it a try!
Today is kit-shipping day for the Cuddle Club, so I’m just popping in quickly with an update on the Craft Hope Quilt. Four colors done, just two left to go. This week I’ll tackle my green and orange scrap baskets. 🙂
I just wanted to take a moment to share the Craft Hope quilt – so far. I’m halfway done (there are two more yellow blocks not shown here) and I’ve had a chance to play around a bit with the arrangement. I’ve definitely settled on grouping the blocks by color – probably in rainbow order. 🙂
I don’t know yet if those groups will be horizontal, vertical or diagonal stripes, but I can’t wait to pull out my basket of blue scraps today.