For Noel Tucker and her family, 2008 might have been the best and worst year.
Her oldest son, a rising kindergartner, suffered a massive seizure. The family was waiting to find out if he had a brain tumor and Tucker was headed to meet his kindergarten teacher when Tucker's husband called her home one afternoon. Their daughter, then 4, was unconscious. She had suffered a brain aneurysm.
Mary Jordan was shipped to WakeMed where the Tuckers were told their daughter likely would not survive. A minister visited for comfort. She was quickly sent to Duke Children's for further treatment.
That's when Noel Tucker began experiencing the simple acts of kindness that would eventually spark the creation of The Comfort Project, a program that provides stuffed animals, books and other items to sick kids at local hospitals.
Mary Jordan's hospital bed was filled with stuffed animals. Friends and family supported the Tuckers as they watched for signs of Mary Jordan's recovery. A cooler filled with chocolates showed up with only a note asking Tucker to give them to all the people who were helping her daughter. Noel Tucker, who also has a third son, blogged about her experience.
"I saw families that had it much worse, their economic situations, kids with no parents, kids with no stuffed animals," she said.
As her daughter recuperated, Tucker decided she needed something fun to look forward to. She wanted a party, a celebration of life. Set for October, she planned for the event to celebrate whatever life looked like at that moment in time for the family.
And, in October, miraculously, that was a healthy Mary Jordan. (Further tests had already found that her oldest son was healthy and did not have a tumor.)
"She pretty much got the miracle stamp," Noel Tucker said. "She's really fine."
As part of that celebration of life, now an annual event, Tucker asked party goers to bring stuffed animals. That day, 300 were collected. The Comfort Project was born.
In the past three years, the program has collected 28,000 new or gently used stuffed animals. Many go to sick children at local hospitals. Tucker also collects books, pajamas, high quality bubbles, kid-friendly DVDs, magic markers, new board games, coloring books, crayons, and more.
The group also puts together care packages for children and their parents, a great service project for scouts, Y-Guides, classes and other youth groups. Care packages for kids might include a card or drawing, along with crayons, colored pencils and a coloring book. Care packages for parents could include a small notepad and pen, tissues, hand sanitizer, pack of gum and granola bar.
Tucker also has begun sharing her motivational story with adult and children's groups who have collected for The Comfort Project or are starting a group project.
"It really is a pay it forward," she said. "I think it's teaching the children in our community that there is more than just them. That simple act of kindness can really change the world."
The Comfort Project has collected up to 500 stuffed animals and 200 books a month, but it could always use more. Tucker said the group particularly needs children's books in Spanish.
Stuffed animal and book drop offs are accepted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays, at Tucker's employer, Milner, Inc., 3200 Gateway Center Blvd. Suite 140 in Morrisville.
To learn more about what kinds of stuffed animals, books and other things are accepted and how you can help, check The Comfort Project's website and Facebook page. Watch the video to hear more from Tucker.
And here's one easy way to support the project. Donate two of the following new items - pajamas, DVDs, board games, stuffed animals or books - and shop early from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., March 8, at Upscale Resale consignment sale, Waverly Place, 302 Colonades Way, Suite 201, in Cary. The items must be new. Early shopping before the general public (usually offered to consignors and volunteers) is always a great way to get the best stuff.
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