McKenzie Saunders

McKenzie Saunders, 11, Pine Township, is surrounded by some of the stuffed animals she hopes to send to orphaned children. A carnival to raise funds for the effort is set in the Saunders’ backyard at 624 E. Main St. Ext. from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 24).

An 11-year-old Pine Township girl has collected nearly 600 stuffed animals – and hopes a backyard carnival on Sunday will raise enough money to send them to orphaned children world-wide.

McKenzie Saunders will have the help of her parents Rian and Kim Saunders – and about 50 volunteers – in their backyard at 624 E. Main St. Ext. to put on the carnival fundraiser from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

They will all be wearing a T-shirt with the name of McKenzie’s cause, called Furry Friends to Love Around the World.

“I’m excited, cause I can make kids smile,” she said.

The cause began in February, when her parents started the process of adopting a brother and sister from an orphanage near Jinja, Uganda.

“We watched different videos of kids in orphanages in Africa and saw they didn’t have anything,” said McKenzie’s mother – which made her little girl want to put smiles on their face with Furry Friends.

The videos made McKenzie feel sad, she said. “So she started with her own collection, and got together two garbage bags full” of stuffed animals, her mother added.

They also collected them from children at their church, friends and strangers. On Monday, 100 hand-sewn bears were donated from a woman who attends the church of a couple that works with McKenzie’s dad. Kritter Kreations donated about 12 new animals to the cause.

The challenge is now finding a way to deliver Furry Friends to Africa.

The Saunders family will make two trips to Uganda if their adoption plans – which are still going through the system – end up bringing the 4- and 6-year-old siblings to America.

Dad, Mom and McKenzie will make the first trip to the orphanage, where they hope to distribute the stuffed animals to 100 children who live there, Mrs. Saunders added.

They would like to ship the toys ahead of time, then pick them up when they arrive, she noted.

“We don’t know how to go about that,” she said. With corruption, “Things can be a bit tricky when shipping overseas,” Mrs. Saunders said. The toys could be stolen or “sometimes they say, ‘You have to pay us,’ even though we paid it to ship them,” she said.

McKenzie also decided to make Furry Friends go beyond the two African orphanages that initially plucked at her heart strings, her mother noted.

Since they can’t travel the world, the family hopes to use missionaries to deliver Furry Friends, Mrs. Saunders said. The mom already made one contact with All About Children’s Needs in Hermitage, which sends food shoes, clothing, bedding and mats for orphaned kids in Africa, she stated.

Right now, the 600 stuffed animals are housed in the Saunders’ spare bedroom, where their adopted son will eventually sleep, the mom said. His sister will room with McKenzie.  

Money from the carnival will go towards potential costs of renting a storage unit for the stuffed animals, in addition to shipping them, Mrs. Saunders added.

The carnival will be for children 12 and under. It will have 20 games, balloon animals, kids Zumba, face painting, crafts, food and a magic show and bouncy house. Prizes will be given for tickets won at the games.

There will also be a Chinese auction and 50-50 raffle. Some featured giveaways will be a restaurant gift certificate basket – with eight restaurant certificates so far – backpack with school supplies, pet basket, spa basket/gift certificate, nail salon basket and car wash supplies/coupon gift.

“We’ve been planning this for two months,” Mrs. Saunders said. Attendees can donate funds or new/gently used stuffed animals at the carnival for Furry Friends.

They can also say hello to McKenzie, who will be working the fish bowl booth, she added.

Adopting from Africa has been a dream of her dad’s since he was younger than her, Mrs. Saunders said. They also have three older boys in their 20s. McKenzie can’t wait to be a big sister to her African siblings. “A kid in today’s world, it’s all about ‘me.’ And she’s never been like that,” McKenzie’s mother said. When raising small foster kids, “She was a real trooper. So often she had to take a back seat. She got right in and loved playing with them.”

It was McKenzie’s idea to give free T-shirts to the volunteers for this Sunday’s carnival, Mrs. Saunders added.

“She’s always been a very giving kid,” her mom said. “We’re proud of her.”

Admission to the backyard carnival will be $10 for one child; $15 for two; $25 for three; and $30 for four or more. Parking will be at Ultimate Sports Rentals, K9 Confections and Roto Rooter, all near the Saunders’ home. Visit Furry Friends to Love Around the World on Facebook.

This article was published Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. Copies are available for this and other editions at 201A Erie St., Grove City, during business hours. Info: 724-458-5010.

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