Haley Whatley, 13, of North Richland Hills, Texas, a seventh-grader at Smithfield Middle School, has collected more than 15,000 new stuffed animals for sick children at Cook Children's Medical Center in an annual Easter campaign that she began when she was 6 years old. At that time, Haley saw a television commercial about children with cancer. "You should've seen the kids in this commercial," she said. "Some were so sad and sick - I just had to do something." Her mother took her on a tour of the children's hospital, and after talking to the staff, Haley decided to provide something to cheer up the patients. Since Easter is her favorite holiday, she chose stuffed bunnies.
"I told everyone I knew that I needed stuffed bunnies, and boy, did they help," she said. In her first year, she collected 600. Since then, she has spoken to more than 50 civic groups, found several corporate sponsors, and recruited more than 30 "bunny ambassadors" to collect bunnies from their schools, churches, scout troops and sports teams. Each year she meets with her sponsors and ambassadors to plan the annual campaign and review the training manual that she created. Posters, flyers and collection boxes are made, and when all of the donations are in, Haley bags the bunnies and delivers them to the hospital in a huge trailer for distribution to sick kids. "I just want to make them all feel better so they can go home happy and healthy," she said.