Thanks to a big-hearted youngster from Arundel, the kids at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center will have “stuffed animals on their feet” this Christmas.
That’s how Hunter Barden, 9, describes the 103 pairs of slippers he bought with the $2,055 he raised this year to help young people who are being treated at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. The slippers look like assorted feathered and furry friends: penguins, moose, cows, flamingos, dogs, crocodiles, you name it. Hunter and his parents, Craig and Tabetha, delivered the fancy footwear — five boxes, all stacked on a dolly — to the children’s hospital on Monday.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Hunter said.
Hunter and his parents bought the individually wrapped slippers online from a company that offered them a discount once they learned on whose feet those slippers would go, according to Tabetha.
This is the third Christmas in a row in which Hunter, a fourth-grader at the Mildred L. Day School, has donated gifts to the children at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. Two years ago, he presented the hospital with $50 worth of teddy bears — he raised $25 for the cause, and his parents matched it. Last year, he bought $50 worth of toys for the hospitalized children.
Of course, this year’s haul — $2,055 — is quite a jump in funds, thanks to many who personally donated to Hunter when word got around about his mission. According to Tabetha, many who are affiliated with Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel — bikers, waitresses and the owner of the saloon, Warren Bentley himself — contributed funds during their annual motorcycle run. Even the hospital’s namesake — former First Lady Barbara Bush, who summers at the family compound in Kennebunkport — gave to the cause, Tabetha added.
“It turned into a snowball effect, with everybody liking the idea and wanting to buy slippers,” Tabetha said.
When children start feeling better at the hospital, they’re able to take indoor walks in order to exercise and get out and about and build up their strength. Hunter came up with the idea of getting them animal slippers, figuring that’d make their daily strolls more fun and comfortable. This year, he had even more ambition to help the hospital because he knew a fellow child who was a patient there and visited often.
Hunter’s giving may have started three Christmases ago, but the seeds of his efforts were planted when he was all of two years old. At that age, he stayed at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital for a short period in December in order to recover from some surgery.
“I remember being so excited we could leave and be home for Christmas, but sad for all the kids who would have to stay hospitalized,” Tabetha said. “When I felt (Hunter) was old enough, I told him about his surgery and the other kids, and together we started donations three years ago.”
While she came up with the idea three holiday seasons ago, Hunter remembered on his own last year and brought up helping the children again, Tabetha added.
“It’s nice that he’s able to think of others and that he wants to help kids who aren’t feeling good and are having a hard time,” she said. “We are very proud of his big heart.”
When he’s not raising funds, Hunter said he enjoys sports, such as football, lacrosse and baseball, and he lists a lot of outdoor activities as his favorite pastimes too: skiing, hunting, and fishing, to name a few.
And his philanthropy also benefits the American Heart Association. At his school, he raised $1,645 for the organization — a contribution that means much to him because, he said, his father had had heart surgery when he, his father, was a child.
Hunter called the widespread support he received for his fundraising efforts “pretty cool” and “fun.” And he already has his sights set on next Christmas. He wants to raise funds to buy more slippers for more children, he said.
On Thursday, Liz Shaughnessy, the hospital’s Child Life Supervisor, praised Hunter for his generosity, care and thoughtfulness.
“We think this is wonderful because Hunter took the time to talk to us and find out what we really need,” Shaughnessy said. “It’s also important that he did the research to follow our guidelines related to infection control. The result is that we now have slippers that are really fun and are also appropriate for our patients.”
Shaughnessy said that every child at the hospital will receive a pair of slippers on Christmas morning. She added that Hunter has donated so many slippers that there will be enough pairs left over to present to other children who stay at the hospital throughout the coming year.
“It was incredibly thoughtful of him,” Shaughnessy said of Hunter’s gift. “It’s going to bring a lot of smiles to our patients.”
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