Welland Burnside, a senior at Maple Hill High School, has collected more than 175,000 stuffed animals over the past six years for traumatized children around the world, in honor of a young friend who died of cancer.
The day after his friend Alex died, Welland resolved to turn his grief into positive action. “My plan was to conduct a drive for new and gently used stuffed animals and place them on Alex’s grave on his birthday,” Welland said. “At the end of the day, I would gather the animals and donate them to the local Police Department so that officers could carry animals in their cruisers for children in traumatic situations like car wrecks or domestic violence.”
In just one week, Welland worked out a plan with the police, recruited friends to help, sent announcements to the news media, placed posters and collection boxes around town, and planned a graveside celebration. Since then, Welland has coordinated an annual “birthday” drive as a legacy to Alex, but has also vastly expanded his “Animals for Alex” project.
He has conducted many fund-raisers, placed collection boxes at community events throughout the year, and, with the help of friends and family, established annual collection drives in 37 states. His stuffed animals now are not only distributed through local law enforcement agencies, but also are sent to children’s hospitals, group homes, medical missions in Third World countries, young victims of natural disasters, and children in Iraq.
In addition to the animals he’s collected, Welland has raised more than $200,000 in funding and in-kind gifts for his project.