He loved that pink pig.
It was a couple of feet long, and really soft.
It was also 8-year-old Saber Kletzien’s favorite stuffed animal – the favorite among the many stuffed animals sharing his room. Barney. Dr. Seuss. Winnie the Pooh. Elmo. Mickey Mouse. They were all there.
“His room was overwhelmed with stuffed animals,” Jason Kiefer, Saber’s step-father, told your Catholic Herald in an interview. “So, we needed to do something with them, and we tried to think, ‘What would be a really nice thing to do with them?’”
That’s why, when it was time for the then-second-grader to do a service project in preparation for his first Communion, May 4, Saber’s mom, Anne, step-father, and Saber, talked about donating his beloved friends.
“We wanted this donation experience to be more personal rather than dropping off a bag at Goodwill. Not that we don’t do that,” Anne wrote in an email to your Catholic Herald. “In fact, we shop and donate to Goodwill on a regular basis. It’s one of my favorite places to go and we like to give back to the community.”
But they also wanted it to mean something personally to Saber.
When the local police department said its closets were full and that it was unable to accept donations at that time, Anne, letting her fingers do the “walking” on Google, eventually found the Sisters of the Divine Savior’s ministry, Hadley Terrace Senior Apartments, which provides a safe, supportive environment for low-income, elderly residents of the central city.
Jan Penlesky, director of communications and PR for the Sisters of the Divine Savior, said it was a “random connection that turned out beautiful.”
“We were really flattered. … We were very, really touched that (Anne) would choose to come here,” Penlesky said, noting that the 25-30 stuffed animals Saber washed, dried, fluffed and donated to Hadley Terrace residents would most likely be saved and passed on as Christmas presents to their grandchildren.
“They’re all very low-income and many of them receive food vouchers, but they can only use those vouchers for food, so we try to help them in other ways with donations,” she said, noting that Anne was interested in working with them on more projects.
Penlesky said the sisters were grateful for the donations, but she could tell that Anne was grateful, too.?“(Saber’s) mom, as grateful as we were, his mom seemed very grateful for the opportunity to kind of demonstrate to Saber that this is really what giving is all about. So, as grateful as we were, I could see that in her, too,” she said.
Carol Machulak, Saber’s second-grade teacher at Christ King School, Wauwatosa, said Saber, now a third-grader, is an empathetic, active, good helper and caring little boy, which she sees coming from his parents. His project idea was no different.
“I thought Saber’s was just really unique, so obviously they talked at home and just really thought of something different, and I think a lot of that comes from Mr. and Mrs. (Kiefer),” she said.
Machulak, who has been teaching second-grade at Christ King for nine years, said she watched Saber begin to look beyond himself as he grew in his relationship with Jesus, from the beginning of the year to the end, through his prayers.
“His prayers were always really outward, really thinking of people in need, the poor or the sick or if somebody he knew needed a prayer or even thinking beyond when there were world events that were going on…he’s just really one that really grew in that worldview of Jesus, wanting us to think about people in need,” she said.
Machulak said the family embraced the service project in preparation for first Communion just as they did with preparation for all of the sacraments.
“The family just really jumped in with both feet and really wanted to take the whole service angle and really do a lot of good things,” she said.
At home, Anne and Jason talked with Saber about his stuffed animal donation and what it meant.
“We talked about where they would go and why,” Anne said.
“How they’d be loved and really appreciated by the people who would get them,” Jason added.
And one service project led to another for the family.
Since Saber had received special gifts from family and friends after he was baptized Feb. 2 – something they decided to wait to do when he was old enough to understand and participate in it – and again after his first reconciliation Feb 23, Anne and Jason celebrated by doing something more for his first Communion.
“He was really on board with, in lieu of gifts for Saber, bring something that we can donate to the Humane Society,” Anne said.
Their family and friends thought it was a great idea.
“They were all more than happy to donate and above and beyond what we asked even, in a lot of cases,” Jason said, of the two boxes of items they donated – including bags of dog and cat food, toys, treats and shampoo.
“It was a really unselfish gesture, so they thought it was really cool for an 8-year-old boy to be doing something like that,” he said.
Saber received a certificate of thanks from the Humane Society, but Anne and Jason know he’s getting more than a certificate and thank you’s from the sisters for the service projects he did before receiving the sacraments, and for asking for donations in lieu of gifts for himself; he’s learning a life lesson, one that they plan to also teach to their 3-year-old, Olive Kiefer.
“We really try to help him realize how good we have it. We try to explain it to him that not all kids have stuffed animals to play with, not all kids have a bedroom to sleep in at night – a lot of kids don’t have enough food to eat during the day,” Jason said.
“So we try to really teach him to be thankful for the great family and everything that we do have, and the earlier you can start doing that, I think the more it will stick with him and become a part of who he is.” Tracy Rusch, Catholic Herald Staff