TIPTON — Madison Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ken Kemper held up the fluffy yellow stuffed duck in front of him and smiled.
His eyes then glanced over at the sparkly pink fish, the smiling monkey and the little gray cat.
“This can help us a lot,” he said, motioning to the animals and then directing his attention straight at 12-year-old Ethan Wesner of Tipton.
After all, it was Wesner’s idea to bring the stuffed animals to the fire department in the first place.
One day last year just before his 12th birthday, Wesner was riding in the car with his mother when she asked the boy how he wanted to celebrate turning another year older.
“He said he didn’t want anything for his birthday,” Andrea Wesner remembered her son saying. “So I said, ‘OK, well, if you don’t want anything, we’ll still have a birthday party, and people will want to bring you something, so is there anything we can do?’”
That’s when Ethan came up with an idea to ask for stuffed animals that he could turn around and donate to first responders who come into contact with children during tragic situations, like house fires, vehicle accidents or domestic violence situations.
“We were driving down the road and had been cleaning our house, and we saw in our playroom that we had a lot of toys, mostly mine,” Ethan said, recalling how he came up with the idea. “So I thought that I didn’t need them anymore, so I tried to come up with different ideas to do. And it just came across my mind that I could do this.”
Not only did Ethan just ask for stuffed animals for his birthday, but he put up flyers and set out donation boxes all over Tipton so that others could donate to his cause too.
In all, Ethan collected more than 300 stuffed animals, enough to give several bags to at least nine different emergency agencies so far throughout Tipton County.
“It makes me feel like I’m impacting people, and my main goal was to give more than other people do,” Ethan noted. “… It’s about knowing that I can make other kids happy that might not be happy at that point in time.”
MTVFD Assistant Chief Jon Williams said the stuffed animals will come in handy at the fire department, and he was appreciative that such a good deed came from the mind of a child.
“We get called when it’s one of the worst days of a person’s life,” Williams said. “With a child who’s in an incident, they’re focused on what just happened, so if you can give them a teddy bear and get them focused on that, it helps calm them down enough so that you can start treating them if they’re injured.
“As a volunteer fire department, we rely on people going above and beyond,” he continued. “And usually numbers throughout the United States for volunteerism and younger people, it doesn’t seem like they always want to help out. So to find someone, a younger person who wants to give back, it’s just phenomenal.”
And for Ethan’s mother, watching her son follow through with an initiative of charitable giving has been very rewarding.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” Andrea said, referring to Ethan’s donations. “He’s always been one to want to give to other people. … He very well could have just wanted video games or something for himself, but he didn’t. He wanted to do something to impact other kids. … Sometimes kids and adults alone, they just need a little bit of comfort, and that’s what Ethan’s focus was, to just comfort people in a bad situation.”
Ethan then sat back in his chair and smiled after his mother finished speaking.
“When they need it most,” he added.