Grandmother inspires girl to hand out teddy bears

OAKDALE -- Jaden Jacobson really, really, really wanted a laptop for Christmas.

When her grandmother, Donna Perry, told the 12-year-old laptops were a little more than the family could afford, Jaden wasn't hearing it. The Emilie J. Ross Middle School eighth-grader with a penchant for baggy sweat shirts and drawing on her shoes threw a bit of a fit.

"I was sad," she said Friday in the waiting room of Oak Valley Hospital. "Laptops are really cool."

Perry told her granddaughter of children with bigger problems than Christmas wish lists. There were kids who didn't get anything all year and children who waited for Santa in hospital beds.

"It was a friendly reminder there are kids out there who are a lot worse off," Perry said.

Jaden was moved. She decided those kids should get Christmas gifts, so she and grandma bought teddy bears -- lots and lots of teddy bears -- and have spent the run-up to Tuesday handing them out at two area hospitals.

"I brought bears," Jaden told a room of seniors at Oak Valley Care Center, a skilled nursing facility at Oak Valley Hospital. "I felt it would be nice."

She pulled a rumpled sheet of paper from her big sweat shirt pocket and read a poem: " 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."

"Can you sing?" asked 80-year-old Barbara LeGendre.

"No," the 12-year-old said, "but I have teddy bears for everyone."

For 45 minutes, Jaden told the seniors about herself -- she goes to school in Hughson, but lives in Modesto and after her mom had a kidney transplant, she decided to be a doctor when she grows up.

The seniors told her about themselves. Margaret Heltzel, 88, was raised in Kansas and worked for a local veterinarian for 17 years.

"Wow ... that's a long time," Jaden said.

"Margaret puts the tablecloths on our tables every day, huh Margaret?" said activities assistant Crystle Carney. "I tell her she needs to collect a paycheck."

Jaden had been to Memorial Medical Center handing out bears in the pediatric unit the day before. Emanuel Medical Center and Doctors Medical Center told grandmother and granddaughter they presented a security concern, Perry said. The extras, bags and bags of them, should find their way to Toys for Tots, Perry said. All told, they spent a couple of hundred dollars on about 150 bears.

"Laptops are still cool," Jaden said, "but this is better."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.