Approximately 1,300 stuffed St. Bernard toys have been sold at Co-op grocery stores in Brandon, Neepawa and Minnedosa.
For every stuffed animal sold for $13.99, a matching toy goes free of charge to a child facing treatment at a local hospital.
"The demand is through the roof for them," organizer Mark Saler said, adding that stuffed animals are currently sold out. "No matter where I go, everyone’s like ‘I want to buy them, why don’t you have more?’"
Saler launched the effort earlier this year as a result of his St. Bernard housemate, Grizzly, being unable to visit children in Westman-area hospitals since the pandemic hit.
A licensed therapy dog by trade, Grizzly is well known in the area for his visits to sick kids in hospital — a warm, calming visit they’ve been without for more than year.
Kickstarted by a $500 cheque Grizzly received alongside a medal of hope from the Minnedosa Lions Club, support for the effort has since exploded.
So far, 10 sponsors have pledged $500 each, while an additional five have contributed less than $500, Saler said, which all goes toward supplying stuffed St. Bernards to children in hospitals in Brandon, Neepawa and Minnedosa.
The sale of stuffies at Co-op grocery stores offers this effort an additional boost Saler said has been great enough to expand the effort beyond the three communities it currently serves, the scope of which he’s currently hashing out.
Given the tough times we currently live in, Saler said it’s "unbelievable how all the surrounding areas have come together for this."
"Everybody’s looking for something positive, and this Grizzly’s gift initiative is something everyone’s been looking for … so everyone wants to support it," he said, adding the managers of Co-ops have told him they’ve been receiving phone calls "all day every day" from people inquiring about the stuffies.
Although Saler has retained some stuffed animals to give away to children at area hospitals, those available for sale have sold out. Saler said the toys are currently on order and he hopes to have them soon.
For now, he said children at area hospitals are still receiving stuffed St. Bernard toys.
"I go up to the front door and I give them to the security guard, and he takes them to someone who brings them into the rooms," he said. "The one security guard told me he feels like Santa."
Although Grizzly misses visiting with children, Saler said the St. Bernard remains in good spirits.
"He’s always doing good," he said with a chuckle. "Me and you wish we were living his life."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB