By Suzanne Wiley, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
I’ve had Huggy, a stuffed plush resembling something between a mouse without whiskers and a teddy bear ever since I could remember. From the moment I met him, with the exception of school, he never left my side. Huggy has even flown around the world—logging in as many frequent flier miles as I have in a backpack under the seat in front of me. From Indonesia to London. From London to the United States, Australia to Fiji, Japan to Hawaii with so many stops along with the way—there he was. Making me feel at home in hotels I was bussed to sometimes in the middle of the night, in a country I had never been to, where I didn’t even know how to say “thank you,” much less “help” in the country’s language.
In full disclosure, I still have Huggy. The sweater he so proudly wore gone. The leather pads on his paws long ago ripped off. The stitches from so many surgeries unraveled, leaving two of his legs flat as pancakes. It has been awhile since Huggy retired from his ever-watchful perch on the bed to a shelf in the closet, but he’s still there. Starring out from his scratched up glass eyes, Huggy serves as a daily reminder that the simplest thing can provide immense comfort if I were to ever need it.
When the subject of Huggy comes up when I’m chatting with friends, I always grieve for the stuffed animals and blankies that were thrown in the fire or in the trash when some parents deemed my friends “too old” to be carrying around “that old thing.” These are tragic losses, but what about when a dear stuffy is lost due to fire, tornado, flood, hurricane or other natural disaster? How do children cope with not only the loss of their favorite stuffed animal, but the loss of their house, clothing, pets or even the loss of loved-ones?
Children are more vulnerable than healthy adults are during disasters. Besides physical harm, a child suffers due to their naturally immature coping mechanisms. Children can feel a stronger lack of control after a disaster due to their inability to understand, having no prior knowledge base that things will be okay. Thanks to Dallas-based American Red Cross volunteer, Suzy Bashore and award-winning plush toy designer Phebe Phillips, The American Red Cross now has a program that offers child victims of disasters a soft and cuddly stuffed dog called Piper the Puppy.
Piper the Puppy helps children cope with the loss after disaster strikes. Child psychologists find that stuffed animals and comfort items such as blankets ease children’s stress, help them cope with separation, provide a sense of security, and aid in self-soothing. Children also use these toys to express their emotions when they do not have the words to communicate their feelings.
The first Piper the Puppy was given to a child in 2011. Since then, the Piper the Puppy program has been implemented in 11 Red Cross chapters across the United States—including Dallas and Tyler, Texas.
Starting with a $100 donation, you can “adopt” a Piper the Puppy in you or your company’s name. Your donation to the Red Cross helps provide shelter, food, blankets, basic hygiene and other immediate essentials to families who suffer from disasters such a house fires, floods, tornados, hail storms, earthquakes and hurricanes. Piper the Puppy rides on the emergency response trucks that respond to house fires and other disasters, just waiting for the arms of a scared and worried child.
Piper comes with an illustrated book by Phebe Phillips that helps children cope with a loss and is written in both English and Spanish.
Join the over 8,000 people who have donated to help provide essential supplies to families and children in need by sponsoring a Piper the Puppy here.
When you donate at least $100 you
• Get your name on a Piper paw
• A child victim of a disaster will receive a free Piper The Puppy
• Receive an alert when a Piper is given to a child
Was there a time in your childhood “Piper” helped you recover from a loss? Tell us how stuffed animals have comforted you or your child.