AUBURN — To help comfort hospital patients, Auburn students collected hundreds of stuffed animals at schools throughout the city Friday.

Friday was the first of two collection days in the Cuddle Drive. The second will be Dec. 13, Auburn Middle School math teacher Doug Dumont said.

By the time the drive is over, he expects thousands of stuffed animals will be on their way to Central Maine Medical Center, where nurses will use them to calm and cheer stressed patients.

Dumont’s mother, Anne Dumont, is a member of CMMC’s Woman’s Hospital Association. She recently told him their “stuffies” were running low.

“I’m always looking for projects that my kids can help with,” Dumont said. The idea for a Cuddle Drive soon spread to nearly every Auburn school, including Edward Little High School, Dumont said.

The WHA looks for small, stuffed animals that are safe for children, WHA member Sharon Poulin said. The stuffed animals are cleaned for free by a local business, and WHA members, including Louise Gervais, do “day surgery,” sewing any tears. The stuffed animals get fresh bows and tags and are distributed to nurses.

The hospital distributes some 300 stuffed animals each month.

There’s power in a “cuddle,” Gervais said. She recalled one instance where a sick 3-year-old was petrified of going on an elevator.

“He thought the elevator was going to eat him,” she said. A nurse gave him a stuffed animal and said it was his protector. The toy calmed him down.

“We get that kind of reaction,” she said.

In another instance, a 92-year-old patient was dying. “A nurse gave her a small stuffed kitten,” Poulin said, and the woman liked it so much she asked that she be buried with it.

Poulin’s son, who is 21, has a bear he got when he was hospitalized at age 3. “Boo-boo stitches” is still in her son’s bedroom, she said.

The act of giving a stuffed animal may be little, “but it has big results,” she said.

Students and community members are enthusiastically responding to the call for animals, organizers said.

“The feedback is amazing,” Dumont said. “The kids are enjoying this.” The response from students, teachers and community members “is overwhelming,” he said.

Bringing in stuffed animals shows them how they can help others and teaches how they are connected to all kinds organizations and people in Lewiston-Auburn, Dumont said.

Any stuffed animals that can’t be used for hospital patients will be given to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray and the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society animal shelter in Lewiston to comfort animals, WHA members said.

Animals at the Gray park have been seen sleeping with the toys, the women said.

Donations of small stuffed animals in good condition may be left at Auburn Middle School between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the week. The red collection box is in the entryway.

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