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Helping Kids in 'the Curved Building'

Three-year-old’s Curiosity Turns Into $800-plus in Gift Card Donations

Charlie, like many 3-year-olds, asks a lot of questions.

One day, as he was sitting in the back seat of his mom-driven vehicle on the way to school, he inquired about “the curved building” they always passed on their route, Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis.

“We talked about how sometimes children get sick and how it’s such a wonderful hospital because even if you have no money they’ll make sure you get excellent care and make you feel better,” said mom/personal school transportation supervisor Jen Jekel-Farrell.

This is where Charlie’s reaction diverged from the typical curiosity of a 3-year-old. Instead of moving on to the next thing down the road that drew his interest, the bespectacled, active little boy remained fascinated by the idea of a hospital for children his age who need medical care. While the St. Louis Shriners Hospital team doesn’t take care of sick kids, per say, they do treat everything from routine fractures and breaks to some of the most rare orthopaedic conditions known to modern medicine, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

“This made such an impression on Charlie that he wanted to give the kids something for Christmas to make them feel better,” Jen said.

So she asked him: What do you want to give?

“Bunnies!” he enthusiastically replied.

Sadly, bringing any kind of bunny – real or stuffed – into the hospital in 2020 stretched beyond the limits of COVID-19 safety protocols. Stuffed animals – or live ones, for that matter – are on the list of items the hospital couldn’t accept as Christmas donations this year, a list that included, well, all toys.

What Charlie could give the kids, the donor relations team told Jen, was gift cards. “Patients, especially our teenage patients, really appreciate gift cards, and we don’t have to worry about storage space or COVID,” said Dianne Johnson, director of development for the hospital.

Jen set about explaining gift cards to her son, not necessarily as easy a concept to grasp as the joy bunnies bring. Jen’s persistence and Charlie’s intelligence won out.

And so on Christmas Eve Charlie delivered, in a socially distant and COVID-safe manner, more than $800 worth of gift cards to Target and Wal-Mart. What that amount would have looked like in bunnies is something to ponder.

The money came not from an exorbitant allowance or underground bunny-selling operation, but via donations from family and friends who wanted to support the mission and care of the St. Louis Shriners Hospital. Jen beams with pride when she talks about her son’s first foray into holiday giving. That the boy chose Shriners Hospital is something special to her.

“My little sister has spent a lot of time in children's hospitals when she was younger, so I know just how lovely it is to receive something special when you're there,” she said. “Especially around the holidays when you can't be with friends and family.”

And the fact that the donation came from the son of someone who works in the same neighborhood as the hospital – Jen spends her work hours in CIC@CET in Cortex in St. Louis’s Central West End – is special too.

“Our neighbors are so generous,” said Johnson. “So many times, you don’t even have to ask and they go above and beyond. We’re lucky to be located in a place where love just flows.”

Charlie with mom and Johnson

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