Lions and Tigers and Bears

Four-year-old Brooke has joined the wrong group on the floor of the Eliada Home gym. When the teacher stands the kids up to return to the classroom, she notices Brooke. “Oops! You’re not with me. Stay here, okay?” she says, as the rest of the children depart in a single file line. It’s only a quick moment—and Brooke’s correct class is just across the gym—but her sense of abandonment is keen. Her eyes well up and a few tears slip down her cheeks. But in Brooke’s bag is a brand-new stuffed elephant (among other new bedtime items), and when she pulls it out and holds it close, her tears stop. In a few more moments she’s been coaxed into intoning some delightful high-pitched squeals—the “sound an elephant makes.” Her classmates join her, having finally selected their own new stuffed animal friends, and the momentary crisis has been averted.

The children in Eliada’s academy, daycare, and after-school programs are often in transition from unstable environments. Some are in the foster care system and some are housed on Eliada’s campus, while others still live at home, but come from underserved families or have special learning needs. Many have experienced abuse, neglect, or other trauma. They are exactly the children Sleep Tight Kids aims to reach out to with comfort, warmth, and reassurance.

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Last Tuesday marked the second annual holiday gift-giving event for Sleep Tight Kids at Eliada. More than 200 kids, from toddlers to 12-year-olds, visited the Eliada gym to choose their own pajama sets, blankets, stuffed animals, and dental hygiene kits, and all walked away with a bag with their name on it, literally spilling over with gifts. (Babies from only six weeks old received their own special delivery.)

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Volunteers manned tables overflowing with goods—particularly a full menagerie of very soft stuffed animals. As quickly as kids could make their selections, the tables were restocked, and new types of animals were unearthed from a seemingly endless supply of boxes—with popular choices like puppies and kittens; lions, tigers, and four kinds of bears; and even beavers, horses, and moose (rechristened reindeer by many of the children, given the wintry season). Some kids, their faces lit with joy, made beelines for their animal of choice, while others remained cautious in their decision-making process, wanting to be certain the bounty was truly meant for them.

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Bright pajama sets featured polka dots, ballet shoes, trucks, penguins, yetis, and more. A teacher noted that the following week would feature a Wear-Your-Pajamas-to-School Day at Eliada, so the kids would be able to put their new fashions on display. Thick, fuzzy blankets of red, blue, and green were stacked high on the tables, and promised warmth on a chilly day.

Teachers exhorted their students to leave their gifts in the bags until they got back to the classroom in an orderly fashion, but most kids simply couldn’t resist pulling out their stuffed animals for a hug. Many of the children came up with names for their new toys on the spot—Fuzzy for a koala, Rudolph for the reindeer, Foxy for a fox, and so on. And at least one found delight even in the dental hygiene kit: “Green is my favorite color!” exclaimed a girl named Sophie, discovering the enclosed toothbrush of that hue.

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“This is the best Christmas Day ever,” sighed Sophie blissfully, clutching her toothbrush in one hand and a stuffed giraffe in the other, completely unfazed by the fact that the holiday itself was still 12 days away.


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