2,400 toys collected for wildfire victims

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Rebecca Struthers, left, and Diana Blaschke, both of Clovis, toss stuffed animals into a box headed to California.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Arik and Ben Yeager thought they would have made some progress by Monday in their goal of collecting stuffed animals for victims of the California wildfires.

They didn’t expect this much progress.

After watching the news about the California wildfire victims and learning half of the 5,000 victims were children, First Church of the Nazarene Pastor Wally Yeager said his sons came to him with the idea to help them.

“I said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they thought about it and they both said, ‘Let’s do a stuffed-animal drive and see how many stuffed animals we can get for kids who have lost everything.’”

Yeager said his sons — Arik, 11, and Ben, 9 — have donated to charities before, but never took on anything of this scale. He said his sons were inspired by the acts of compassion by communities during Hurricane Katrina and the tornadoes that hit Clovis in March.

“They have seen how communities can come together and show love and support for one another and they just felt like this community would be one of these communities, too,” he said.

Arik said he and his brother thought of collecting the stuffed animals because it’s something children like themselves find comforting in trying times.

“(Dad) asked us what comforts you when you’re scared and you’re going to sleep, so we said stuffed animals,” said Arik, who parted with his stuffed snake.

The brothers sent letters Thursday to Clovis elementary schools, the fire department and Clovis Community College to request help in setting up donation boxes. By Monday the drive collected about 2,400 stuffed animals, which were boxed for Yeager to deliver to the Red Cross in San Bernardino, Calif.

“I knew it would do well, but I didn’t think it would do this well,” said Arik. “For all the short time and short notice, I think this is real good.”

Yeager said the stuffed animals came from elementary schools, Clovis Community College and their congregation.

“This is just another case in point where we see a community coming together and saying we need to help out those who are less fortunate, those who have lost their homes,” he said. “I think it’s an awesome show of love and generosity.”