Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Bringing a new or gently used stuffed animal to Chick-fil-A in Carmel Mountain Ranch on Saturday will not only earn you a free item, but you’ll help a 4S Ranch 10-year-old comfort area children during emergencies.
The stuffed animal drive is to benefit the We Care Bears Project started by Jessica Carscadden.
Anyone who donates a stuffed animal between 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 will be given the choice of a free original chicken sandwich, breakfast entrée or dessert. There is a limit of one free offer per person, said Katie Hunter, the restaurant’s marketing director. Chick-fil-A is at 11670 Carmel Mountain Road.
The animals will go toward Jessica’s efforts to provide San Diego Fire-Rescue with stuffed animals for distribution to youngsters during emergencies when the fire department or its paramedics respond.
“It’s really a good thing, really touching,” Hunter said. “People (often) have too many stuffed animals ... so to give them to kids who are frightened, that is something everybody can do.”
Hunter said she learned of Jessica’s efforts when her mother, Kathleen Carscadden, posted on the CMR Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page that her daughter was having surgery and during recovery could not eat its chicken nuggets, but was looking forward to the peach milkshake.
Upon reading that, Hunter said she contacted Carscadden to offer free milkshake coupons. As they talked, she learned of the We Care Bears Project Jessica started last year and her remarkable will to live.
According to Hunter, because Jessica was born with a cleft lip and palate, her birth family in China left her to die in a field.
“She was eventually taken to an orphanage where she was placed in a dying room, left to starve to death,” Hunter said. “But Jessica is stubborn and (has) a zest for life and she survived that room. She wasn’t made available for adoption until she was 4 years old because no one in the orphanage thought anyone would want her as a daughter with such a visible facial scar.”
Her destiny changed when Kathleen and Bob Carscadden adopted Jessica right after her fifth birthday.
Her mother said the reconstructive surgery in August is the latest for the Monterey Ridge Elementary fourth-grader. A bone in her hip was transplanted in her jaw and she could not eat solids for six weeks. A second jaw surgery is set for March. When in high school, Jessica’s jaw will be broken so her mouth can be realigned. As a young adult her lip and nose will need some “cosmetic tweaking” to conclude the reconstructive process.
When cleaning her room last year, Jessica said she decided she had too many stuffed animals and brought more than a dozen to Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District’s Station No. 2 in 4S Ranch.
“I wanted them to go to a child that was sad or injured,” Jessica said.
Afterwards, the then-third-grader asked her principal if she could hold a stuffed animal drive on campus.
“We thought it was a sweet idea ... but would not go very far,” Carscadden said.
The family was stunned when hundreds of animals in the 12-inch to 18-inch range were donated, the size Jessica said children can “huggle” — a word she made up when learning English.
“We had no good way to get them to the fire department,” Carscadden said. They contacted West Coast Fundraising, a Corona, Calif., company that donated 250 reusable bags. The school drive resulted in 70 filled bags, each with around six animals bearing a project tag Jessica attached.
The bags were given to all emergency vehicles in the Poway and Rancho Santa Fe fire departments, all six sheriff’s vehicles in 4S Ranch, 27 San Diego police cars and the Ronald McDonald House.
San Diego Fire-Rescue also said it would take the animals, but they ran out. Therefore Jessica decided to hold another drive so 67 fire engines and ambulances serving the City of San Diego can have stuffed animals too.
“It’s awesome,” Jessica said of the response to her efforts. Morning Creek Elementary students in Sabre Springs recently collected more than 250 animals and Monterey Ridge will hold another drive this month.
For her initiative, the Simple Acts of Care and Kindness organization recently presented its “unsung hero” award to Jessica. It is given to a child who is making a difference.
For more about the project, go to www.wecarebears.webs.com. To donate, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.