Charlotte the stuffed dog is dark grey, about nine inches tall, and her wrinkly face begs to be caressed. Her floppy ears are irresistible, even for a person long past their childhood. At 40-plus years old Charlotte’s a tough dog: and she’s arguably the most poignant story to come out of the 38th annual Port Alberni Toy Run.
Tracy Carniel brought Charlotte with her to ride in the Toy Run. It’s not unusual to see bikers in the Toy Run with stuffed animals tied onto the handlebars or back of their motorcycles: everything from tiny Ty Beanie Babies to giant blue dragons or bears that tower over the riders. After all, the ride is a fundraiser that collects new toys for kids as well as donations that go back into youth-oriented events and organizations.
For Charlotte and Carniel, however, this was a special trip.
“When I was 11 years old I was moved in with a family who was able to take care of me,” Carniel wrote in a letter accompanying Charlotte.
“The Kamloops Toy Run offered stuffed animals to children who had some troubling changes in their lives. Charlotte was (the) wrinkle dog that I was gifted.
“Charlotte was a comfort to me when I would feel sad and lonely,” she wrote. “I feel lucky I am able to give her back after all the years I had her. My hope is she will bring the same comfort to another that she did to me.”
Carniel decided it was time to bring Charlotte for a happier ride, and to pass her on to someone else who needs comfort as much as she did when she was 11 years old. She donated Charlotte back to the Toy Run, along with her letter.
Her story captured the hearts of Toy Run volunteers, including volunteer Sherry Cook and chairperson David Wiwchar, who gave me the gift of Carniel and Charlotte’s story.
“My hope is she will bring the same comfort to another that she did to me,” Carniel wrote.
Toy Run has always promoted itself as “for the kids.” And it’s not often that volunteers get a glimpse into the other side of what they do. When I interviewed longtime volunteer Tom Wall prior to this year’s event, he said there is no comparable feeling to seeing the looks on children’s—and even seniors’—faces when they receive a stuffie or other toy at one of the many events where Toy Run donations are handed out.
“That’s what makes everything (about Toy Run) worthwhile,” he said.
I’m sure Carniel would agree.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.