“They know me in a way no one ever has. They open me to things I never knew existed. They drive me to insanity and push me to my depths. They are the beat of my heart, the pulse of my veins, and the energy in my soul. They are my kids.” – A quote from any parent who loves a child.
There may be no greater sense of satisfaction, no better feeling of inner gratitude, than to touch the heart of a child. The McFarland family knows this feeling well. For the past several years they have touched thousands of young hearts, with an idea as cool as the other side of the pillow…because it is one.
In fact it was 6-year-old Chloe McFarland’s pillow pet, the one she got as a gift a few years ago, at the tender age of six, which gave birth to an idea. Chloe loved that first pillow pet and wondered if other children might also enjoy the chance to share the same joy, especially those who don’t have much joy this time of year, those who are very sick, spending their holidays in the hospital. Maybe another child might like to have a soft, cuddly pet to call their own. Sometimes, maybe most times, all it takes is a simple, noble idea to start a chain of events. This idea now lives as the Touching Lives with Comfort Foundation, TLC for short.
Back in 2010, long on an idea but short on time to implement it, Chloe’s mom Michele, a human resources worker at the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, got to work. Understand Michele has organized holiday toy drives before, collecting and donating toys to the same government facility where she is employed. And the McFarland family – Michele, her husband Brian, daughter Chloe and son Liam, had volunteered their time before at cancer foundations and for other causes. Fortunately for the critically ill children and their parents, the McFarland family was no stranger to giving and Michele especially knows how to get things accomplished. Talk to her for even a few minutes and you know she’s a woman with a huge heart and a big plan in place to share it.
Michele first contacted Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore about the idea and at the time the heads of the hospital hadn’t even heard of a pillow pet. After doing some checking the hospital administrators called Michele back. They loved the idea, saidthey would love to participate and, oh by the way, they would need 200 pillows.
Put a challenge in front of Michele McFarland and her family and watch them respond. Michele got to work telling friends and family about what she and her family wanted to accomplish. She sent e-mails asking for others to donate the pillow pets, or to donate the dough, ($20 at the time), to be able to secure 200 pillow pets in time for Christmas. She contacted CJ products, the maker of the furry friends, told them what she was doing and was thrilled to learn the company was willing to help, they would sell the pillow pets to her at cost. Now the wheels were really in motion.
Between donations of pillow pets delivered right to the McFarland’s home, in a big, over-sized drop-off box right on their porch, cash donations and the help of CJ products, the McFarland’s collected 250 pets and delivered them to the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center that year. The hospital asked Santa to help deliver the pets to the sick children who now had the benefit of a physical and emotional security blanket, a distraction from the stress of surgeries, tests and rigors of recovery, if they’re lucky enough to get that far.
When a child is sick, everything matters and these small gestures made a huge difference. Not only was this act of giving unique, originating from the innocent, yet grand idea of another child, but the McFarland’s were doing it without ever getting to see the end results of their generosity. Because of the risk of germs and infection, the McFarland’s could not enter the hospital rooms, instead giving the pillow pets to the nurses, child life specialists and social workers to handle and then transfer them to Santa for special delivery. It was through e-mails, letters and phone calls the McFarland’s learned of their success. “I’ve always been someone who cares for other people”, says Michele. “Knowing we can do something, even though we don’t get to see it, to help kids get through uncomfortable times, makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.”
Chloe, now 10, echoes her mom’s sentiments, “I always wanted to do something to help and I just get really happy doing something for the kids, not just the kids, but for the world itself.”
The Hopkins experiment was such a huge success, the McFarland’s created a non-profit, (the name of the foundation coming from one of Michele’s Facebook friends), and now entering its fourth year, Touching Lives with Comfort is doing it again this holiday season. Since the first delivery, the foundation has delivered about 4,000 pillow pets and collected close to $20,000 in donations. Pillow pets have now found homes in the arms of children at dozens of hospitals and other facilities, like the Ronald McDonald House of Baltimore. The House has a tag line which is in perfect synergy with the mission of TLC… “life will take them many places, we just never expect the journey will lead them here.” Who doesn’t want to find a way to help a sick child? The McFarland family, friends, co-workers and now dozens of volunteers, are finding a way.
The program has even expanded to include something called “Kapes for Kids”, providing super-hero capes to lift children’s spirits, and give them the super powers to battle their illness. And another popular program, “Remembering Moms”, necklaces with messages of inspiration, which are given as Mother’s Day gifts to the courageous mom’s who fight every step of the way, and feel every ounce of pain right along with their child. Doing something for the parents is the extended vision Michele has for the foundation, “I would really like to provide some more types of services to parents, like Yoga classes and massages, services that might be beneficial, to relieve stress and lift spirits.”
TLC recently held a fundraiser at the Phoenix Restaurant in Ellicott City, raising more than $5,000 for the cause. It’s dollars and donations of time which are in greatest demand. Each and every pillow pet which is purchased, or donated, is then individually tagged with information about TLC and boxed up, twelve at a time, to be delivered to the hospitals and facilities. The more people who can help, tag, box and deliver, the better. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page, and either send a message, or post your request to help.
The National Center for Health reports that children under the age of 18 account for more than 2 million in-patient hospital stays each year. We all know a pillow represents a place to rest our weary heads after the stress and challenges of a long day. The stressed mind of a sick child needs a little extra love as well. What if every child, weary from their journey, could have a pillow pet to call their own? The challenge is big, the McFarland family’s heart might just be bigger.
I’m sure every child whose life has been touched with comfort would surely agree.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
Mark Brodinsky, Author
The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
The Sunday Series with Mark Brodinsky. Real Stories of Courage, Hope & Inspiration, Volume I