Family hopes to send victims huggable relief

— When America is in crisis, Americans want to pitch in. But for millions of us, the past two weeks have been supremely frustrating. There's really nothing any of us can do about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Nor have we been able to do much to help the victims other than to write checks.

Making cash contributions is an important effort, but it doesn't fully satisfy our need to give of ourselves. Many thousands of people, including a record number here in Steamboat Springs, have made appointments to give blood. It's a noble gesture, and more of us should make a habit of giving blood. Tragically, the need for blood in the wake of the terrorist attack wasn't as great as we at first hoped; there weren't that many survivors.

American flags look good on our pickup trucks, but that only goes so far.

One little girl in Steamboat has a plan to make a personal difference. But it isn't clear if her goal of sending comfort to other children affected by the tragedies will ever be realized.

Danielle Stauffer is 9-and-a-half years old now and outgrowing stuffed animals. But she still understands the therapeutic benefit of having someone to embrace. Perhaps that's why she still keeps a teddy bear named Hugs on the shelf in her bedroom.

"He's a brown bear and his arms stick out like he's going to hug you," Danielle said.

If the fourth-grader gets her way, she'll soon be sending almost 3,000 stuffed animals like Hugs on a journey east to comfort kids in New York and Washington. She wants to reach children who may have lost their primary hug-givers in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Danielle's family has already collected the stuffed animals that was the easy part. There is still a lot of work to be done if the animals are ever to find their way east. It isn't clear if the money can be found to ship the bears, or even if there is a relief agency that wants to have anything to do with 3,000 stuffed animals. Some of the major agencies have already declined to get involved, the Stauffers said.

Those obstacles haven't deterred Danielle, her mother, Susan, her stepmother, Laura, or her father, Bob. Together with Danielle's brothers, the family spent most of the weekend at the Village at Steamboat, putting tags on the animals. Each tag is printed with a heart-shaped emblem and the message "You're in our hearts."

The Stauffers aren't about to give up on the effort to send their stuffed animals back east. But there is a chance, that in the end, it will have been a compassionate gesture that didn't fit the situation.

That shouldn't detract from one family's attempt to deal with an inhumane event of such staggering proportions the human psyche can't quite come to terms with it.

Ultimately, the most you and I can do may be to show more compassion to others in our everyday lives. That, and perhaps spreading a few more hugs around.

That's what Danielle Stauffer has in mind for one little stuffed bunny rabbit wearing an outfit that has been tie-dyed in all the colors of the rainbow. The rabbit is her favorite out of all 3,000 stuffed animals, and she can picture him in the arms of another child.

"If they're sad, they'll be able to hug them or something like that," Danielle said.

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