'Something of comfort': Every child in Iowa foster care to receive stuffed animal thanks to partnership

Adolfo Espitia
Des Moines Register

Iowa children in foster care are receiving special deliveries this spring designed to comfort them during difficult times — free stuffed animals. 

Four Oaks Family and Children's Services in Cedar Rapids has partnered with Lavender Life Company, a Michigan-based online store, to hand out more than 3,500 stuffed dogs and bunnies. That's one for every Iowa child currently in foster care or entering the system, according to Four Oaks officials. 

The toys, which have been donated by Lavender Life, are specially made with a lavender scent and can be warmed to give a more comforting feel. Caseworkers started distributing them in March and expect to have most delivered this month. 

"Being placed into foster care can be a very emotional and confusing transition for children," Kelli Malone, Four Oaks chief program officer, said in a news release. "Being able to provide something of comfort to children while they undergo this difficult transition is incredible."

Michigan-based Lavender Life Company donated more than 3,500 Xander Bunnies and Xander Dogs that will be handed out to Iowa children in foster care.

Des Moines foster parents Matt and Kacy Agee said children in their care received two of the stuffed animals. They bonded quickly with the toys and one rarely lets it out of his sight.

"We gave it to him and he almost immediately started hugging it and giving it kisses," Kacy Agee said. "When I wake him up in the morning he grabs it before I get him out of the crib and he walks around with it."

The Agees received an email explaining Lavender Life Company's mission and, about a week later, the toys were personally delivered by their caseworker. 

"When they're at the age that our kids are at, it's just good to see them happy and to hear them laugh," Matt Agee said. "All of that is huge with development and this is attributed to that, at least in our house."

Lavender Life's donations include Xander Bunny and Xander Dog, named after the owner of the company's grandson, who was adopted from foster care, according to the news release. 

Jessica Wright assists with the assembly and packaging of the Xander Dogs at the Four Oaks Dummermuth Intergenerational Center in Cedar Rapids.

Four Oaks contracts with the Iowa Department of Human Services to recruit, train, license and support the state's foster and adoptive families, the release said.

The distribution of the toys reminds foster children "that no matter what they may be going through, they are loved and they are not alone," Iowa DHS Division Administrator Janee Harvey said. 

Lavender Life has donated more than 33,000 stuffed animals to foster kids in 13 states, the news release said.

Emily Easton, recruitment coordinator at Four Oaks, said the gifts are a blessing.

"Having something like that (stuffed animal) — 'this thing I know belongs to me' — can be a really important thing for a kid," Easton said.