By JEFF CLEMETSON
Mission Times Courier & College Times Courier
Pastor John Quinata, founder and minister at Our Father’s Grace Ministries, knows just what kind of impact gifting a stuffed animal can have on child. When his daughter was three years old and undergoing oral surgery, the doctor sent her home with a stuffed teddy bear.
“She fell asleep with that little bear and when it was time to go back for the follow-up she walked out of the house clutching the bear and I just thought that it was cute like it was a security blanket,” Quinata said, adding that his daughter brought the bear to the follow-up because she thought she was only borrowing it.
“She thanked him for letting him come home with her while she was healing. The doctor got on one knee and said, ‘No honey, this is for you. He gets to live with you from now on,’” he continued. “Well my daughter went to college; she’s moved three or four times; she’s 28 years old, and to this day that bear sits on her bed. The impact that it made on that little girl is what I’m reaching out for all these young kids that are in the hospital.”
That hospital Quinata reaches out to the kids at is Rady’s Children’s Hospital and its partner organization the Ronald McDonald House, where he has been organizing a stuffed animal drive for five years now.
The stuffed animal drive began as a class project for middle school students Quinata was teaching through Our Father’s Grace Ministries. The 16 students collected 150 animals the first year. The project could have stayed a successful program for Quinata’s students, but after discussing it with Inter-religious Council of San Diego president Lisa Patton, it was re-imagined as something bigger. Patton reached out to LDS Church East State president Clark Hendrickson to get involved and the stuffed animal project had a team in place.
“Between us three, this thing has just exploded — having those two people involved,” Quinata said. “Each year it has grown, and last year we donated 998 animals.”
Since the involvement of the Inter-religious Council, participation has grown to include many churches from around the region, including the Bahai center, many LDS churches, St. Andrews Lutheran, Santee Christian, St. Martin de Tours, Our Mother of Confidence and more. Although some churches who participated last year are not involved this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the stuffed animal drive is still expecting to break its collection record thanks to the participation of more LDS churches from the county, Quinata said.
Stuffed animal collected for the drive are stored and given throughout the year to patients at Rady’s and their siblings who stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Families at the house are from all over the world and are separated from friends and belongings left at home while their son or daughter or brother of sister is getting treatment. The animals come with a card from Our Father’s Grace Ministries and the Interreligious Council that “let’s the families know that people are praying for them,” Quinata said. “I thought this was a little gesture to remind the kids that we care out here and we’re pulling for your family to get everybody well and go home and continue life the way it’s supposed to be.”
Donated stuffed animals must be new and only 10-to-12 inches tall, but “no noise makers like monkeys banging cymbals,” Quinata said.
Animals will be collected on Oct. 24 at drive-through drop off locations — mostly participating churches and supporting businesses — during specific hours. The animals will then be brought to a central location where they will be boxed for storage. Because of the pandemic, many extra safety precautions are being taken for this year’s event — including forgoing the usual party at the Bahai Center for all the participants.
“We’re going to make sure this is done very cleanly and safely as we can,” Quinata said. “I’m hoping next year we can just get back to throwing a big party and have everyone join us.”
For more information about the stuffed animal drive, visit bit.ly/3cZ9Ey6.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.