Anastasia Fullerton and her cousin Madeline Petrow were only twelve years old when they read Jennings Michael Burch's autobiography 'They Cage the Animals at Night', a stirring tale about his childhood as an orphan.
In the book, Jennings describes how uncertain his childhood was, as he moved between foster homes and orphanages. His only solace during these tough times was his best friend 'Doggie', a stuffed animal that never left his side.
The book inspired the two girls so much that they decided to help find a 'Doggie' for other less fortunate kids, and the idea of 'Cuddle Buddies' was born.
Initially, the two planned to collect stuffed animals for just the 2004 holiday season and donate them to two charities - the Lincoln Center in Oakland and Kids Crises in Connecticut . However, after successfully collecting and donating over 1,500 animals in the first year, the two decided to continue Cuddle Buddies as a long-term project.
Now in its fourth year, Cuddle Buddies collects more than 2,500 stuffed animals every year and they don't go to just local charities - but all the way to orphanages in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Cuddle Buddies recently even received a request for stuffed animals from China.
Jennings, whose book started it all, says he is very touched that his book made such an impact on two young girls, who in turn are providing comfort and hope to thousands of young children who have little to look forward to.
And it isn't just Jennings who was impressed with the Anastasia's efforts. She was recently presented with the Jefferson Award, a prestigious national recognition system which honors people for outstanding community and public service.
Anastasia says that she had never in her wildest dreams thought she would be able to make a difference in the life of kids all the way in Africa and that she would love to visit them some day.
If you wish to set up a Cuddle Buddies chapter in your school or neighborhood, Anastasia and Madeline would love to hear from you. Visit their website at http://www.cuddlebuddies.net/ and see how you too can bring a little joy to children all over the world.