Mom do­nates stuffed an­i­mals to kids in shel­ters

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Eric La­gatta

Kathy Gersper isn’t able to see the re­ac­tions of the chil­dren who re­ceive the stuffed an­i­mals she col­lects for them at this time of year.

Their let­ters of thanks, though, tug at her heart­strings.

One, she re­called, re­layed the story of a trau­ma­tized young boy who would speak only to the teddy bear he was given cour­tesy of Gersper’s ef­forts. Oth­ers re­vealed sto­ries of kids who toted the bears into a court­room for comfort as they tes­ti­fied about the abu­sive sit­u­a­tions from which they and their moth­ers had fled.

“The kids — what they go through — that just tears at me,” said Gersper, a Wester­ville res­i­dent who as a younger woman sur­vived do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. “It is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

In­spired by her own ex­pe­ri­ence, Gersper for the past seven hol­i­day sea­sons has gath­ered stuffed an­i­mals to do­nate to do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence shel­ters through­out the state. She knows how those flee­ing tu­mul­tuous sit­u­a­tions have lim­ited time to grab only es­sen­tial items be­fore an abuser might re­turn home. And she hopes the gifts help soothe of­ten-trau­ma­tized young­sters, whose own teddy bears might have been for­got­ten or left be­hind.

“Some­times they just need some­thing to hug while Mommy’s get­ting coun­sel­ing,” said Gersper, who has raised six sons with her hus­band of 27 years. “They might not have their fa­vorite toy or blan­ket.”

Gersper ini­ti­ated the ef­fort in 2011 while liv­ing in Mount Gilead and has con­tin­ued it since mov­ing to Wester­ville two years ago to be closer to her job with the Ohio Civil Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees As­so­ci­a­tion.

The do­na­tions re­ally took off in 2013, after Gersper spoke about them dur­ing the OCSEA an­nual con­fer­ence. At­ten­dees pledged more than $16,000 in do­na­tions, she said, al­low­ing her to buy plush toys from area stores and de­liver them to every do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ter in the state.

Kathy’s Crea­ture Com­forts — as she has since dubbed the ef­fort — is an un­der­tak­ing that her en­tire of­fice of about 120 now sup­ports each year.

“It has ... be­come a fes­tive gath­er­ing for em­ploy­ees,” said Joe Mon­golier, OCSEA’s fa­cil­ity co­or­di­na­tor.

Every year be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Gersper calls 88 shel­ters through­out Ohio to see how many stuffed an­i­mals they could use. In 2017, the number ranged from 12 to 60.

Many of the stuffed an­i­mals she col­lects — she asks that they be new and at least 1 foot in length (the per­fect size for snug­gling) — are do­nated by in­di­vid­u­als or com­pa­nies.

Gersper also raises money through raf­fles and other pub­lic events to buy ad­di­tional stuffed an­i­mals, with area stores of­ten of­fer­ing dis­counts when they learn about her cause.

Last year, Crea­ture Com­forts col­lected 1,410 stuffed an­i­mals, some of which were do­nated but most pur­chased with the $7,087 Gersper and oth­ers raised. (Each year, she gives any extra plush an­i­mals to a nearby fire sta­tion for its own char­ity drive.)

Crea­ture Com­forts do­na­tions are down this year, said Gersper, not­ing that she would like to raise $4,500 more to meet all of the shel­ters’ re­quests.

Some of the money last year came from a fundraiser or­ga­nized by Si­grid Rother, as­so­ciate pas­tor at the Wester­ville Com­mu­nity United Church of Christ.

Gersper isn’t a mem­ber of that church, but Rother met her when Rother’s hus­band worked with Gersper at OCSEA. Moved by the cause, she brought to­gether youths in the church to make buck­eyes to sell at the church’s an­nual fund-raiser.

The kids didn’t host a sec­ond Buck­eyes for Bears ta­ble at the bazaar this year, Rother said, but many mem­bers still contributed to Crea­ture Com­forts.

“I think she’s an in­cred­i­ble woman, and I wanted to sup­port her,” Rother said. “What Kathy is do­ing is to­tally out­stand­ing.”

Every hol­i­day sea­son, the stuffed an­i­mals that Gersper buys and col­lects slowly pile up to­ward the ceil­ing in a va­cant of­fice cu­bi­cle.

In about two weeks Christ­mas, the en­tire of­fice will sort, pack and load all the do­na­tions — stuffed cater­pil­lars, di­nosaurs and pan­das, in ad­di­tion to bears.

From there, Gersper and about 30 other vol­un­teers — friends, fam­ily and co-work­ers — drive around the state to meet shel­ter con­tacts at gas sta­tions or stores — to pro­tect the shel­ter lo­ca­tions.

“It’s so much fun,” said Na­dine Kemp­ton, a data­base de­vel­oper at OCSEA’s Wester­ville of­fice.

Kemp­ton al­ways helps sort and pack the do­na­tions, and she of­ten do­nates some stuffed crit­ters to the cause.

“It’s nice know­ing that all th­ese lit­tle kids who have ba­si­cally been ripped out of their homes for the hol­i­days are go­ing to get some­thing nice,” the Mount Gilead res­i­dent said. “I know a kid is go­ing to get it and go crazy over it.”


Ni­cole Gersper, daugh­ter-in-law of Kathy Gersper, un­loads do­nated stuffed an­i­mals from the trunk of her car for the col­lec­tion. The an­i­mals are taken all over the state. Kathy Gersper in an of­fice cu­bi­cle where she stores do­nated stuffed an­i­mals for hol­i­day delivery to chil­dren in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence shel­ters.

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