The donation included enough stuffed animals, toys, books and other goodies to fill about 250 backpacks.

A small brown teddy bear and a slew of other stuffed animals — part of a donation of hundreds of toys and gifts collected by members of Lions Clubs in four Florida Districts — are part of a big care package for the children and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville.


"This bear will be put on the bed of a sibling from a family with a child under treatment at University of Florida Shands Children's Hospital. A note on the bear will read ’Take me home when you leave,' " said Sherry Houston, executive director of the Gainesville Ronald McDonald House.


Houston accepted the donation during a brief presentation Saturday at the Ocala Hilton. It was part of the Lions’ spring district governors meeting, which included representatives from the club’s four Florida districts.


Houston said the 31-room Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville is full all year. The facility provides lodging, meals and refuge for the families of children while they support a child being treated at Shands.


"The message to the child is someone they never met cared enough to send (the gifts). It's a profound message (and) totally impactful," Houston said, clearly moved by the gesture.


The donation included enough stuffed animals, toys, books and other goodies to fill about 250 backpacks. The donation was the result of the Lions Governors' Partners In Service project for the state, which also include clubs in the Bahamas, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, according to lionsofflorida.club


The Partners In Service Project was spearheaded by Michele Tighe of Lake Alfred, Florida, a member of that city's Lions Club for about four years. Her son, now 28 years old, was born premature and was treated at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.


Tighe organized similar donation drives for that hospital.


"I want to give back," she said.


Donated stuffed animals, which came from dozens of Lions Clubs statewide and accumulated quickly had to be new to meet hospital requirements, Tighe said.


Houston said heart transplant is the most common reason families stay at Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville. Cancer treatment is the second most common and a premature birth the third.


Houston said families are referred to Ronald McDonald House by their pediatric social worker and must apply online as well as agree to a criminal background check.


"We have had a long wait list for the past five years. The House is indefinite stay, with an average length of stay more than 60 days. One-third of the families staying with us are waiting for a heart for their child," she stated in email.


"We partner with B'Nai Israel Community Day School, and they provide a birthday cake and gifts for our residents," Houston, said. She said some toys from the Lions Clubs donation may be used for those events.


Houston said the longest stay she was aware of was 18 months. Room donations are welcomed but not required, Houston said.


Lions Club members who gathered at the meeting discussed trailers kept at selected club locations in the state which are stocked with "Blessing Bags" of essential items to distribute and recovery equipment like chain saws. The trailers are kept on the ready to respond to emergencies like natural disasters and were used in the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.


Estelle Michelson On Top of the World Lions Club in Ocala attended the four-day conference at the Hilton. She said Lions Clubs are involved in sight and hearing outreaches and support the Cure Children's Cancer organization.


"We focus on children and our veterans," she said.


For more information about Lions Clubs, go to lionsclubs.org