Handmade bears make Christmas boxes special


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DEWITT — It’s a typical November afternoon at the DeHaven house. Mom Annette keeps an eye on her two youngest sons, who are scurrying from room to room. The family’s pet birds chirp in the background. Meanwhile, 11-year-old Isaac sits quietly at the sewing machine in the living room, cutting out teddy bear-shaped pieces of brightly colored fabric and sewing them together.

Lindsay Steele
Isaac DeHaven, 11, sews bears for Operation Christmas Child boxes at his home in DeWitt last month.

The deadline for Operation Christmas Child boxes is approaching, and Isaac, a sixth-grader at St. Joseph School, is eager to make as many bears as possible to donate to impoverished children around the world.

It’s a yearly tradition for the DeHavens to pack three Operation Christmas Child boxes — one from each of their three children. Annette, her husband, Nick, and their sons fill shoeboxes with school supplies, blankets, journals, toys and daily necessities. The last item to go in each box is one of Isaac’s teddy bears.


Isaac began making the bears in 2015. He knew how to sew basic pillows and thought that making a basic, two-sided stuffed animal wouldn’t be too different. He thought the children receiving the boxes would enjoy a gift handmade with love. Isaac and Annette discovered that a basic bear pattern was the easiest to cut out and sew, since it didn’t have a tail.

It was rough going at first. The family sewing machine constantly jammed. “The only way you could hold it together was with duct tape,” Isaac said. Fortunately for Isaac, his grandmother gifted him with a used sewing machine in good working order for his birthday the following August.

With the proper tools, Isaac was eager to make as many bears as possible to help fill out other Operation Christmas Child boxes at the collection site in Davenport. The boxes are delivered to children around the world through missionaries. But the cost of materials was adding up —Annette admits the stuffing, in particular, is expensive. The family’s prayers were answered last year after Annette posted a picture of Isaac and his bears on the Operation Christmas Child Facebook page. She didn’t ask for donations, as she just wanted to showcase a simple craft idea. But offers to donate materials came flooding in. “It was God’s hands really pulling things together,” Annette said.

Isaac now has enough material to make as many bears as he likes for years to come and they’ve had to turn down additional material donations.

In total, Isaac has made about 30 bears. When he makes the bears, he thinks about how happy the recipients will be when they open their boxes and see one. “Seeing people happy makes me happy,” he said.

He sees the project as an expression of his faith and the lessons he’s learned at St. Joseph Catholic School and at Mass with his family. “The Bible teaches us to be generous, share and give” out of a desire to bring joy to others. “What would Jesus do?” he said.

While the introverted sixth-grader isn’t keen to bring attention to himself, he’s been encouraged by the kind words he has received from staff and students at St. Joseph’s.

Annette, for one, couldn’t be more proud of her son. She hopes that, through knowing Isaac’s story, other youths will be encouraged to find creative ways to serve others.

“His heart is really into stuff like this,” Annette said. “I hope he keeps that sense of enthusiasm.”

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