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Teens Create Hope Out of Scraps and Stuffing

Two Mother McAuley High School freshmen from Oak Lawn took a whimsical idea to sew stuffed animals into a memorable philanthropic effort, making gifts for people in need of simple acts of kindness.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally posted on Oak Lawn Patch on Feb. 23. It was chosen for Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day feature on Feb. 27.

Sarah Dynia and Bridget Regan are so close that they finish each other’s sentences.

The Oak Lawn teens talk in excited bursts of language that well up like sudden summer storms, typical of 15-year-olds. When you see one, there is a 99-percent chance that you will find the other. Pals since preschool, Sarah and Bridget frequented the same birthday parties and school activities

“We just said hi,” Sarah recalled of their first meeting as 3-year-olds.

“I remember playing with the little train set,” Bridget said, both girls laughing so hard they can barely get the words out. “We played blocks and trucks. We played with food.”

It wasn’t until the middle grades when they became best friends and formed their philanthropic enterprise—Stuffed Love—an organization that distributes handsewn stuffed animals, pillows and other cuddly shapes to those living on society’s fringes.

“I noticed by doing other volunteer work for school that people just needed stuff, both monetary and foodwise,” Sarah said. “I kept wondering ‘what can two eighth-grade girls do?’”

A Loving, Caring Message

The idea for Stuffed Love was born at a random sleepover. Both girls liked to sew.

“I was looking for something involving stuffed animals,” Sarah said. “I also wanted to get the message out of love and caring.”

Sarah said she knew the name of their enterprise would be “stuffed something.”

“We thought about it during class and Bridget said ‘Stuffed Love’ and I was like, ‘yeah.’”

For their first project—Dec. 23, 2010—the girls stitched a boxful of cats, bears and starfish that they distributed to seniors at a nearby nursing home. The experience opened their eighth-grade eyes.

“It was just so surprising to see how few had presents or family. They were so happy to get our stuff they were crying,” Sarah said. “I wanted to do it again.”

“It was very touching,” Bridget added. “My heart grew just like the Grinch’s heart did.”

From there, Stuffed Love snowballed. They made patriotic pillows for veterans at an outpatient treatment center, and geographic shapes for developmentally disabled adults.

“Everyone still holds on to their cherished Stuffed Love creations,” Kristen Bonk said, spokeswoman for that provides social, vocational and residential services for developmentally disabled adults. “Our staff has seen the kindness and creativity of Sarah and Bridget, and all agree that they are a true inspiration.”

Since Stuffed Love’s humble beginnings, Sarah and Bridget have hand-stitched more than 1,800 of their creations, distributing them to the homeless, veterans, seniors and families whose lives have been blown apart by the economy.

“A lot of people just need to know that they’re cared for,” Sarah said. “What better way than to give my own pillow creation? Maybe I’m starving and homeless, but knowing someone took the time to care, there may be hope for me.”

'She Had Her Mind Set on 500'

Both girls are now freshmen in Chicago’s Mt. Greenwood neighborhood. They continue to plan projects around their demanding homework loads.

Sarah, an honors student, is Stuffed Love’s chief executive officer; Bridget, with her considerable skills from managing five brothers at home, is chief operating officer.

“She’s good at making sure work is getting done and keeping volunteers in line,” Sarah said. “I’m a softy. I have a hard time yelling at my friends.”

Asked what Sarah brings to the partnership, Bridget says without hesitation, “She’s smart.”

This past Christmas, Sarah and Bridget pulled off their biggest project to date, producing 500 stuffed creations that were distributed along with turkey dinners

On Christmas Eve, discovering they were still 20 short of their goal of 500, Sarah sewed throughout the night after coming home from a family holiday gathering.

“I told her 480 was plenty, it was great,” Sarah’s dad, Mark Dynia, said. “But she had her mind set on 500.”

Stuffed Love’s projects continue to grow in scope. While Sarah and Bridget attract small donations here and there, Sarah’s parents provide most of the funding for fabric and materials.

“We can plan so much easier now because people know us,” Sarah said. “We’re not just two girls looking for community service hours for college. It’s something we’re both committed to and love.”

Sarah's dream is to take Stuffed Love's message of hope and caring worldwide.

"I hope its something other kids will find out about and follow in our footsteps," she said. "No matter where you are or what race or gender, you can do something to make a difference, because you never know where it's going to take you."

Learn about Stuffed Love's latest projects by liking their Facebook page.

Sandra Bury February 23, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Congrats Sarah and Bridget! Keep up the inspiring work. It's wonderful to see people do things for the pure love of doing them. I wish you great success as you look to expand your concept to others.
Mother McAuley High School February 23, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Wonderful work by our students! They are true examples of the compassion and conviction that was the mission of our Catherine McAuley, founder of the Mercy order. Service to the greater community remains a cornerstone of the Catholic education McAuley continues to provide to young women from across the Chicago area. Thanks for preparing such a great article, Lorraine!
Mavi Richmond July 19, 2012 at 05:31 PM
how can we donate??

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