For the 329 families who participated in this year’s Holiday Friends gift-giving initiative through Beyond Housing, a donation of more than 800 teddy bears valued at over $16,000 from the Build-A-Bear Foundation made the Dec. 16 event especially joyful.
Holiday Friends is designed to ease the financial burden of buying presents for families who are facing challenges—and to remind them that other individuals and organizations are there for them in times of need.
“Many are choosing between rent and utilities or a Christmas gift,” said Kiah Earl, Annual Fund and Events Manager at Beyond Housing. “The kids don’t know what the families are going through, so to be able to provide that moment of joy means so much to the parents, grandparents, and caregivers.”
Families invited to participate in the initiative submit requests for their children, and Beyond Housing recruits Holiday Friends to contribute the items or donate toward purchasing them. This year 97 individuals and 37 organizations and corporations took part, raising $22,890 toward gifts for 835 children.
“Families often ask for things that we take for granted,” Earl said. “It’s a teachable moment for donors because they see what familiar fun items families request but also things they need, like beds.” As donors become more familiar with the challenges the families face, they often donate extras such as wrapping paper, gift tags, and bows. “They really start to think about every aspect,” Earl said.
Donors also include past Holiday Friends recipients who have overcome their financial challenges and wish to contribute to other parents and caregivers because they understand what they are experiencing. Earl said one family in particular made a point to tell her that they had worked hard to get to the other side and wanted to give back. “That was a moment I’ll never forget,” she said.
In the week leading up to this year’s pickup event, 46 volunteers helped process the donated items at Beyond Housing’s headquarters in North St. Louis County. They included high school students, community members, Beyond Housing staff, and groups such as Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Omicron Eta Omega Chapter, and US Bank Impact Finance. Other key contributors included Enterprise Bank and Trust, Deloitte, St. Peter Catholic Church in Kirkwood, and Brick and Mortar Investments.
The brown teddy bears donated by the Build-A-Bear Foundation, a longtime Holiday Friends partner, were unwrapped and waiting to be snuggled by children under age 11 when they arrived at the Dec. 16 event in Beyond Housing’s auditorium.
“We know the joy a teddy bear hug can bring children, and we want to make sure each kid feels that hug as soon as the bear is handed to them,” said SiSi Beltrán, Vice President and Executive Director of the Build-A-Bear Foundation and Cause Marketing.
The bears are part of the foundation’s Hearts ‘n’ Hugs Fund, which provides in-kind donations of furry friends. “Over the past 25 years, we have donated more than $22 million and 1.5 million furry friends to charitable causes,” Beltrán said. “The St. Louis community is very special to us, as we opened our first store here and St. Louis is home to our Bearquarters, and we are honored to be able to give back to our community.”
Earl said families were excited to see the bears, visit with Santa, and pick up additional items like food baskets contributed by the Beyond Housing Community Health Department.
“Holiday Friends plays a crucial role with Beyond Housing’s holistic services because we don’t want families to short-circuit the progress they’re making toward goals such as paying bills on time in order to enhance their family’s celebrations,” Earl said. “Seeing the stories these families come in with, it’s a moment to reflect and be grateful.”