In Stevens Point you’ll find Pat Hilpert, a woman on a mission. She collects critters, critters she has no plans to keep. When her husband of 53 years died Hilpert took a leap of faith. She said, “I needed something to do. Everybody seems to like frogs and dogs and teddy bears.” In her 80s, this retired nurse became a matchmaker. It started after her sons where done with college and she found some old toys and stuffed animals while cleaning out their closets. “They’re beautiful animals and I just hate to have them thrown away. I’m surely not going to let them go to waste,” Hilpert said.
Before she knew it the idea caught on, bringing together unwanted stuffed animals with kids in need. “I’ve got piles of toys categorized like frogs and elephants in one pile and monkeys and whales and spiders in another one,” according Hilpert. They arrived two by two and then by the hundreds. Most of them are donated by individuals and they will bring them to Hilpert 50 to 60 in a bag. She said, “I received a number of toys the other day, there were 40 in three big boxes. They’ve already found their home. They went to a Lutheran Church in Plover. The Methodist Church up the block needed about 37. Many of them will go down to Plainfield to a Baptist Church down there. I think they have an order for 73 and then a special education teacher, Ms. Jones, likes to have Teddy Bears just for her 32 children. If she needs more toys I’ve got plenty down here.”
“Down here” is Hilpert’s basement. It’s over run by stuffed animals large and small. Her sons built her shelves for a recent birthday so she’d have a place to place all her pets. Hilpert said, “I’ve got a rule that, if something comes in one week, something has to go out the next week.” There seems to be a never ending supply for her menagerie and people will just leave bags of animals at her door. So Hilpert decided well, she had better put something out on the doorstep and created what she calls “the giving chest”. “Oh it is, so fun! You never know what is inside,” Hilpert said.
With each new arrival Hilpert will check it over, make sure the seams are good and will mend it if needed. Her sewing machine is from 1950. All it does is sew backwards and forwards and Hilpert says that’s all she needs. Once the mending is done, the next stop is the wash. Hilpert said, “My washing machine just moans and groans whenever it sees another bag of toys coming downstairs.” The toys come out of the wash and go into the dryer or are hung on a line out back. What was once old is new again and the Pound Puppy is a good example. Hilpert said, “The pound puppy was so popular about ten, fifteen years ago. I’m seeing a lot of the pound puppies coming through now as their owners go off to college. The other day I think I received 15 of them. They went through the wash machine and came out 15 clean puppies.”
Those puppies are about to be unleashed and are ready for a new home. Each stuffed animal comes with an original poem Hilpert wrote. It goes like this, “I have been a pre-loved toy by a child, we had fun being together just being wild. Someone washed me in Purex and Cheer, every bit of the dirt is removed even behind my ears. So let’s play and start the fun, my new life with you has just begun.” She hopes the poem and pets inspire kids to read as she points to a buffalo with its own buffalo book. Hilpert tries to have a book with every one of her adopted stuffed animals and she’s been successful until just this last week. Hilpert said, “I’ve run out of books. I love reading so much. If a child has something more than just the toy mom and dad will probably sit down and spend more time them.”
The need seems to be never ending as Hilpert looks at a pile of frogs. “I’ll find homes for them and I’ll find books to go with them,” she said. Hilpert has been keeping track of the number of stuffed animals she has rehomed. She said, “The ones that I took today I think that will be about oh, 10,400.” That’s 10,400 donated stuffed animals and counting.
Many of Hilperts cherished critters go here to “Operation Bootstrap”. It’s an organization that provides food and toys to those less fortunate in Portage County. “This is fantastic when you think it’s all volunteer work,” Hilpert said. She believes the people of Stevens Point are so generous, more than any other place she’s lived. “Just really glad to be part of it. Thank God that I’m part of it” she added.
Just before Christmas she brought in 400 stuffed animals and says if the parents don’t have to buy toys they have more money for food. She knows the kids are appreciative and their smiles and letters are proof. Hilpert said, “It really made me feel good to think that they were able to get something new and it was theirs.” She provides her time, her supplies and the stuffed animals for free. “My only criteria is that that the toy will never be sold. They have to be given away, they cannot be a sold for profit. God put us on earth to care for each other and that’s my way for the moment.”
More Than Just A Free Stuffed Animal