Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This year's Catonsville Times' article on our Pillow Pets Drive!

Catonsville Woman Aims To Comfort Children Not Just During Holidays

Foundation provides Pillow Pets to sick children at five area hospitals

Touching Lives with Comfort Foundation's Michele McFarland
Catonsville resident Michele McFarland, who created the Touching Lives with Comfort Foundation, is surrounded by the Pillow Pets she will be donating to young patients at five area hospitals. The foundation will have a bin for donated Pillow Pets outside the Santa House Saturday, Nov. 26, when the annual Catonsville tree-lighting ceremony takes place on Frederick Road next to the Catonsville fire station. (Photo by Noah Scialom / November 21, 2011)

A year after distributing 250 Pillow Pets to patients at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Michele McFarland said she plans to triple that number this Christmas.

Already in charge of an army of 1,400 of the plush stuffed animals, the Catonsville resident said she intends to amass a large enough reserve so she can give them to young patients at five area hospitals no matter the season.

"We've been very busy in the last several months trying to figure out how to make this a year-round program," said McFarland, who started the Touching Lives With Comfort Foundation with her husband, Brian.

"Because of this goal, my husband, Brian, and I felt that the establishment of a foundation would create more credibility when reaching out into the community to obtain donations."

McFarland noted the foundation likely would give her more credibility as she seeks donations and when she goes to hospitals.

McFarland has committed to distributing Pillow Pets to children at Johns Hopkins, Saint Agnes Hospital, University of Maryland Children's Hospital, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital this holiday season.

"We're finding that they're going to go really fast," added McFarland, who has two children, Chloe, 8, and Liam, 5. "We've got some stock. We want to keep that momentum going."

Much of the stock, McFarland said, came in September from CJ Products, the manufacturer of the $15 toy.  CJ Products told McFarland that they would donate 1,400 Pillow Pets to her cause if she became affiliated with a nonprofit organization.

McFarland teamed with the Casey Cares Foundation in Arbutus, an organization that provides special programs to critically ill children.

"Michele contacted us because she's working to get nonprofit status for her charity," said Erin Ritter, a program development director at Casey Cares. "It's a very cool partnership because we wouldn't have requested this kind of donation because it just didn't dawn on us."

Ritter noted that she has 20 boxes of 12 Pillow Pets in her office, and they take up so much room that she places sticky notes on the boxes to remind her of meetings.

Ritter said Casey Cares has given out about 50 of the Pillow Pets so far and will give out more at its holiday party on Dec. 10.

McFarland said she has already found "homes" for 1,000 of the Pillow Pets she received.

They are an especially nice treat for children who can't leave the house because they have weak immune systems, Ritter noted.

"When it's difficult to provide an activity, it's nice to give them something," Ritter said. "It really is a great pick me up."

"The 3-year-olds love the Pillow Pets, but we have 15-year-olds who couldn't have been more excited to get a Pillow Pet," she said.

To Annie Beatson, a child life specialist at Johns Hopkins, McFarland's Pillow Pets benefit more people than just children.

"Having that amount is really something that we'd never be able to do ourselves," said Beatson, who noted the hospital has 140 beds. "(It's) really special in the terms that it can provide a positive memory for our patients and families."

Since Pillow Pets come in a variety of forms, including puppies, ladybugs and pandas, Beatson said the pets allow patients to express their personality along with brightening up the sterile environment of a hospital room.

McFarland's motivation in pursuing this project is simple.

"They're going through a difficult time," McFarland said of the patients. "(The Pillow Pets) provide them with a little bit of comfort. It gives them a little smile. It helps them feel like kids."

The Touching Lives With Comfort Foundation may soon offer more than just Pillow Pets.

McFarland said she is considering providing gift bags for young patients and starting Kapes for Kids, which would allow the patients to pretend to be super heroes.

"We want to make it bigger and reach out into the community more," McFarland said about her foundation.

The first place many Catonsville residents will see the foundation's reach into the community is at the tree lighting on Nov. 26.

The foundation, McFarland said, will have a bin next to Santa's house where people can donate Pillow Pets to the cause.

The foundation will also have bins at Catonsville Gourmet, Catonsville Hair Company and McFarland & Masters law firm on Frederick Road, McFarland said.

Donations can be sent by mail to 920 Frederick Road, Catonsville, MD 21228. Checks should be made out to the Touching Lives With Comfort Foundation.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Pillow Pet Holiday Drive Kick Off

Saturday, November 27th, was an exciting evening for TLC and our Pillow Pet Drive.  We were invited to speak at the Christmas Tree Lighting in Catonsville and opening of the Santa House.  Santa Arrives via fire engine.  It's such an exciting evening for children and adults alike.  It's a great family event in Catonsville. 

Before Santa's arrival, I was able to get up on stage with my little helpers ( my children and some of their friends joined me on stage with some really cute pillow pets to show the crowd) and promote TLC's pillow pet drive.  The crowd was the largest yet, and that was probably due to the weather.  It was an extremely warm evening.  A friend was distributing fliers to those in the crowd as well to help spread the word. 

All truly went well- I felt like it was success.

Now let's just hope we can meet our goal of obtaining 750 pillow pets or close to.  Time will tell. 

Since our official kickoff we've received 13 pillow pets.  Our total received is 24 to date, so we have a long way to go. 

Do you want to know more?  Our drive will run through December 18th.  We will be accepting donations of new pillow pets or monetary donations.  We have drop boxes throughout the Catonsville Community (Catonsville Gourmet, Catonsville Hair Co., McFarland & Masters, The Santa House and Paradise Hair Salon). 

Monetary donations can be made payable to Touching Lives With Comfort Foundation and mailed to 920 Frederick Road, Catonsville, MD 21228.

Questions?  Contact Michele at www.touchingliveswithcomfort.org

Many Blessings to all.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Distributing Pillow Pets

We've been diligently at work locating homes for the current pillow pets that we have, and are finding that it won't take long to deplete our current stock.  We have  approx. 1000 of them accounted for already, and it wouldn't surprise me if we have the last 400 accounted for in the next few weeks. 

Therefore, continuing our Holiday Drive is of the utmost importance so that we can continue to give pillow pets to hospitals and foundations as the need arises throughout the upcoming year!

Last year we donated to Johns Hopkins Children's Center only; this year our locations of donations seems endless.  It is very exciting for us.  We've grown from one hospital to 7 hospitals and several foundations, and we are still adding. 

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Busy, Busy and Even Busier

A lot has been going on to prepare for our Pillow Pets Holiday Drive.  WES Student Council's Pillow Pet Committee has been busy at work making fliers to distribute throughout the community, and many other things to help make this drive a success. The kids did such a great job on the fliers-they are adorable. 

A lot of work goes into this believe it or not.  I've been busy ensuring that all of the businesses that have agreed to have a drop box are good to go; purchasing boxes, copying fliers to distribute in the community to help promote the drive and get the word out before the kick off on November 26th; created a poster to hang at the businesses; wrote my first press release (with the help of a friend); posted the event on local websites; placing fliers in and throughout the community and just trying to get the word out.  Whew!  That's a lot.  I pray it all comes together without any glitches.