A teddy bear is often just a toy until it's given meaning, which is exactly what one Southern California 13-year-old is trying to do with each bear he hands out this holiday season.
Three years ago, Caden Henderson spent his Christmas in bed at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, family by his side and a teddy bear that his mom grabbed while leaving the house in a rush.
"A bear can mean a lot to a patient in the hospital; Caden and I know first-hand," Caden's mother, Jill Henderson, says. "We were there for about four days. We knew that he was going to be OK, and we knew on our way to the hospital he was going to have to be admitted, so I desperately tried to grab things to make him happy."
That teddy bear comforted Caden during his visit, so much in fact, that he and his mom came up with an idea as they left the hospital.
"'How can we help other kids that go through what we went through or even worse?'" Caden shares the question that popped into his head. "We thought a teddy bear could help them and try to make the experience a little less hard."
Caden's mother adds, "We thought, 'On Xmas morning, a surprise bear, doesn't matter what your age is, everybody can appreciate a teddy bear.'"
Since then, the mother and son duo have helped give out more than 700 bears to children spending Christmas at the same hospital, with the Hendersons asking for donations last year.
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"We hosted a party at our house and we got a ton of bears, and it was really touching how the community came out," Jill Henderson says.
This year, the community stepped up donations even more, dropping off hundreds of bears at seven different locations in the Inland Empire.
Caden spent his days leading up to Christmas collecting each and every bear, eventually dropping them off at the hospital to children in a similar situation he was once in.
"Usually, they just have a smile on their face or something," Caden says. "And really, it's like a feel good moment. You're making a kid's day or you're helping their Christmas spirit rise. It's really awesome."
Caden and Jill Henderson plan to continue the drive in the years to come, making sure to bring smiles to children's faces each Christmas despite the struggle they may be going through.
"Being only 13, and being so goal-oriented and really empathizing with the patients, I understand what you went through," Jill Henderson says about her son. "Let me do something to try and help you. There aren't words in the English language to express how really proud I am of the young man he's become.”
Caden says, "We want to just keep going as much as we can, get as many bears as possible. I think I'm really learning how things, such as little as a bear, can help someone in their experience, whether it's in the hospital or just life in general."