Ana's Gift cherishes stuffed animal donations

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

This is one gift that actually does keep on giving all year long.

A stuffed animal drive started by Ana Hertel and continues in her name will be Saturday.

Called Ana's Gift, the drive led by her mother, Lori Hertel, will be from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Mall, 2918 Vine, and at Walmart SuperCenter, 4301 Vine. Donations of new stuffed animals can be dropped off at that time.

The stuffed animals will be given to children through the course of the year at Hays Medical Center and also handed out to children by Ellis County emergency and law enforcement personnel.

This is the fourth annual drive. Ana Hertel started it before she died suddenly from pneumonia in 2010.

"She had some special needs herself. She was in the hospital quite a bit, in the emergency room," Lori Hertel said of her daughter, who was 17 when she died. "When she would go, she would get a stuffed animal.

"That was something that was always special to her. She kept the stuffed animals and really thought they were something to keep and cherish."

After her daughter's death, Lori Hertel wanted to continue having the drive to collect stuffed animals.

"Keep her memory alive," she said.

Hays High School also has joined in with a drive.

"We've been able to get stuffed animals to last all year. We're getting very low at this point," Hertel said.

Hertel said the hospital, EMS and law enforcement personnel "are very appreciative" of the annual drive.

"I can't ask for more support from them," she said. "They're just excellent in supporting us in this project."

If you wish to donate but can't drop off a stuffed animal Saturday, call Hertel at (785) 650-1344 to make arrangements.

It's bittersweet for Hertel when the time for the drive comes each year.

"It saddens me a little bit, I guess, because she started this and the memory is difficult," she said. "At the same time, it's an honor to do in her memory."