“It makes me really happy to give another kid a fluffy buddy because it means they get to have a friend with them.”
Alex Walker was just four years old when she was hospitalized for a week because of epilepsy. While it was a scary seven days, Alex found comfort in her teddy bear best friend who never left her side. But she noticed that some of the other kids around her were empty-handed. Alex wanted everyone to have a friend to squeeze when they were lonely, so she began collecting stuffed animals to give away. Three years later, Alex has helped hundreds of kids in need - one fluffy buddy at a time.
Epilepsy has been a part of Alex’s world since she was a baby, but it wasn’t until she turned four that her parents knew she needed extra help.
“She had really bad seizures that would last upwards of an hour at times,” says Alex’s mom, Melisa. “That week-long hospital visit was just terrible. She had electrodes connected to her head to monitor her the entire time.”
Alex couldn’t get out of bed during the hospital stay, but Sky Bear kept her company. Through ambulance rides, hospital bedrest, and rounds of testing, her favorite teddy bear was always there when she needed him.
“Sky Bear makes me feel happy and not scared when I see the doctor or get blood stuff done,” says Alex. “He’s my best friend in the whole wide planet.”
When Alex noticed that many of the kids in her unit lacked a plush pal to cuddle, she came up with an idea. She would gather up her stuffed animals from home and give them to kids who needed friends.
“I had my little bear with me, and other kids looked sad because they didn’t have anything. I wanted to give them a friend so they wouldn’t be lonely.”
Hospital staff later told Alex that unfortunately, they couldn’t accept used items. Instead of losing hope, Alex went out and bought brand new fluffy buddies with $60 of her own allowance money she had been saving.
Loaded up with bags of stuffed animals, Alex returned to the epilepsy unit where she had stayed to spread a bit of cheer to the children and adults there.
“A 20-year-old woman who had just undergone brain surgery was so happy to get a stuffed animal to snuggle with that she was brought to tears,” Melisa says. “Alex told me on the way home that she wanted to keep giving out stuffed animals forever. She genuinely finds happiness in other people’s happiness.”
Encouraged by that first visit, Alex became serious about bringing comfort to kids who were undergoing medical tests or staying in the hospital. She named her project Alex’s Fluffy Buddies and started a GoFundMe with her mom.
To date, Alex has raised over $500 through her GoFundMe, which she has used to purchase and donate over 300 fluffy buddies.
“Alex gets so excited when somebody donates to her GoFundMe,” says Melisa. “She makes comments like, ‘These people don’t even know me and they’re giving me money to help other kids!'”
For extra fluffy buddy funding, Alex also grew tomato plants and sold them to neighbors. Melisa recalls how people who were interested in the tomatoes often became emotional after hearing about Alex’s project.
“We had some adults who just sat and cried. They said their child had been sick in the hospital years ago and it would have been nice for them to have something like this at the time. People were touched by it.”
As she raised more money, Alex was able to buy more fluffy buddies that she and Melisa delivered to the local Ronald McDonald House and nearby hospitals. She even mailed a few to people who were gearing up for surgery. Once, she mailed some to a family whose children had lost all of their toys in a house fire.
“The fluffy buddies really help people,” says Alex. “They can snuggle with them and talk to them - and that helped me when I was staying in the hospital. They’re better than a game or a book because you can hug them and sleep with them at night.”
Now, Alex has expanded her project to make an even bigger impact. Along with hospitals and clinics, she donates stuffed animals to local police and fire departments, where there is a growing demand for comforting toys that first responders can hand out to children in crisis situations.
“We’ve had people tell us how much it means to them to have a little bright spot in their day. They can pick out a buddy to hold onto and keep them company,” says Melisa.
Ultimately, Alex hopes to raise enough money to ship fluffy buddies to hospitals and first responders all across the country - and maybe beyond.
“I want to help the whole world with my project,” says Alex. “It makes me really happy to give another kid a fluffy buddy because it means they get to have a friend with them.”