A 10-year-old Iowan creates teddy bears for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes
Fifth-grader Isaac DeHaven has a hobby with a purpose. In DeWitt, Iowa, with a population of just over 5,000, he doesn’t just sew for fun; he creates stuffed animals for Samaritan’s Purse to include in shoebox gifts for boys and girls in need around the world. During the past year, he’s made 13 critters. Most are teddy bears, but some have tails and whiskers added to make them mice. He hopes to have 25 completed by Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week, November 14-21, when nearly 5,000 shoebox drop-off locations are open across the country.
This is the fourth year Isaac’s family is packing shoeboxes. They pack one box for each of their three boys—ages 10, 7, and 2. After each boy picks their favorite of Isaac’s creations to include in their box, they will send the remaining bears to a processing center where volunteers inspect and prepare shoebox gifts for international shipping. Here the bears will serve as filler items for boxes that are not quite full.
Isaac feels strongly about doing this for children overseas. “It’s important for them to feel loved,” he said.
Isaac first learned to sew while working on Christmas crafts in 2015. He enjoyed making throw pillows to give to friends and family. Early in the new year, he had the idea of making teddy bears to put in shoebox gifts.
“It’s important for people to have friends,” Isaac said.
“And teddy bears feel like a friend,” added his mother, Annette.
“Yeah!” he said.
Isaac drew a pattern for the teddy bears. “It’s mostly his engineering,” said Annette. She just added some width to the arms to make them easier to stuff.
He traces around his cardboard template and also draws a freehand line about a quarter of an inch around that to guide his cutting and his stitching. After sewing along the inner of those two lines, he turns his creation inside out and stuffs it.
Annette finishes off the bears by evening out the stuffing, sewing in joints, and adding a face.
Then Isaac adds his signature bee-shaped button to the right paw of each bear. He said, “I think it fits with what bears eat.”
Isaac’s father Nick, a welder for John Deere in Moline, Illinois, grew concerned about how much his son’s new hobby would cost. About the same time, Annette posted a picture of Isaac with one of his bears on Facebook with an explanation of what he was doing. She did so with no other expectation than to share her excitement for Isaac’s new work.
To her surprise, people who saw her post began asking if he needed supplies. One person sent a check, another a gift card, and another a box of fabric.
“That’s God right there,” Annette said. “He had the heart. He had the hobby. But we needed the financing.”
Nick was surprised when people started sending them things. “Financially, I wasn’t sure how it would work,” Nick said. “It’s neat to see it get bigger. We started out with a really bad sewing machine—”
“It was hanging on with hot glue and duct tape,” Annette said.
But as they were at a fabric store using some of the funds that had been donated, Isaac noticed a refurbished sewing machine for sale. He asked if he could get that for his birthday and his grandmother delivered on his request.
To practice, Isaac used the bear pattern to make an elephant in yellow fabric, only increasing the ear size and adding a nose. When he gave this to his brother Ezekiel, 2, it was named Banana. As Ezekiel carries Banana all over the house, it helps Isaac and Annette envision a child overseas using the bears and getting them dirty.
“Seeing [Banana] getting loved makes it a little real,” Annette said.
An Expression of Christ’s Love
As Isaac and his brothers anticipate filling shoeboxes this year with tennis balls, sketch books, pencils, recorders, and their favorite of Isaac’s bears, they wonder where it will bless a child. In past years, they learned that their boxes went to Madagascar, Uganda, and Lesotho because they donated $7 online toward the collection, shipping, and delivery of the shoeboxes.
Isaac prays for the children who will receive the bears and mice as he makes them, and again when he packs them in the shoebox.
“I hope they enjoy what they find in the box and I hope they feel loved,” he said.
Isaac sees his bear-making for Operation Christmas Child as an expression of his faith in Jesus Christ, which he has had since age 3 or 4. He made this decision as a result of the teaching he received during the childcare of a community Bible study.
“I think it’s right to help people,” Isaac said.
“It’s Christianity in action as it should be. We’re told to give, to share Christ’s love,” Annette said.
Concentrating on Serving
So what does Nick think of all of this?
“It depends on how much of a mess he makes,” he said, remembering the floor full of pins from Isaac’s work. But a magnetic pin holder has helped to remedy that.
“Isaac really does have a special heart,” Nick said. “He’s really thoughtful. He’s always a big help with his brothers.”
Isaac is just two years older than his middle brother Silas, who according to Annette was born “with a grab bag of health issues.” He struggled to eat as a child and still has a feeding tube today. When he was young, he threw up multiple times a day. Annette remembers 2-year-old Isaac grabbing a paper towel and cleaning up Silas’ messes right alongside of her.
Speaking of Isaac’s personal contribution to shoebox gifts, Annette said, “As a parent, one of my biggest prayers is that my kids will find joy and purpose in following Christ. Seeing him want to do this is exactly that. Maybe it will inspire other people to use their hobbies to help people.”
Note: Isaac currently has ample supplies so he is not in need of additional donations.