Published 12:02 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

WSH sixth grader Jaylyn Martin holds two recently donated bears for her stuffed animal drive benefitting sick children in Birmingham hospitals. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News


Nothing says “We’re thinking of you” more than a cute, cuddly teddy bear, or at least that’s the thinking of Jaylyn Martin, a W.S. Harlan Elementary School sixth grader who is leading a stuffed animal drive benefiting sick children at Children’s and UAB hospitals in Birmingham this Christmas.

Martin, the daughter of Keith and Gwen Martin of Florala and a student in Charolotte Roger’s homeroom class, said the idea behind the drive “just came out of nowhere.”

“I was sitting and thinking about my friend who has a sister that’s had to spend a lot of time in the hospital, and probably Christmas, too, and I thought about how bad that would be – to be sick and away from your family and to not get to open presents on Christmas Day,” Martin said. “And I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could give them something for Christmas?’ and it kind of evolved from there.”

Martin said once she began researching “how to get it done,” she learned a lot of things about the hospital – primarily that no one under 14 can be on the hospital floor. But, that didn’t deter her, she said.

Martin, who undertook the project with the blessing of both her parents, took the idea to Brent Zessin, WSH principal, who quickly pledged the school’s help.

Now, Martin and fellow honor club and K Kids members (junior Kiwanis Club) are asking for donations of new stuffed animals or monetary donations until the beginning of Thanksgiving break.

“Jaylyn has the biggest heart of any student here,” Zessin said. “Her compassion for people is more than most adults, and this (project) is her vision to help those children in the hospital.

“She originally wanted to collect toys and such and take a field trip to distribute them, but because of hospital regulations, we can’t do that,” he said. “Now, I’ve talked with them at Children’s Hospital, and they’re going to send someone down to pick up what we collect.”

“There’s really no specific size that they have to be – just no teeny tinny, itty bitty size,” she said of the stuffed animals. “It doesn’t even have to be a bear. Whatever you can find will bring a smile to their face, I’m sure.”

Collections have been ongoing for the last week, and thus far, three bagsful of animals and $136 in cash have been donated. Martin said plans are to “go to the next level” with the project, if there’s time.

“We’re going to try to contact Build-A-Bear and see if they can do a workshop (at the hospital) or something, if we raise enough money,” she said. “Things are moving along. I’m excited to see it coming together.”

Donations are being accepted at WSH. To contact Martin or to arrange a drop-off, contact Brent Zessin at