Hugs for all

Ashlee Smith

Ashlee Smith, 11, of Jerry Whitehead Elementary, recently joined a group of 10 young people from the United States and Canada honored by Build-a-Bear for making the world a better place. She won her Huggable Hero award for starting Ashlee’s Toy Closet, an organization that collects toys and books for children in need. More information can be found at

How much was your scholarship?

My scholarship was $7,500, and the money for my organization was $2,500.

Did you say seventy-five hundred dollars?

Yes. For my scholarship.

What did you win this money for?

I have an organization that helps kids who’ve been affected by natural disasters, fires or in these bad economic times, their parents can’t buy them toys.

And so how does that work?

I get toys donated by kids. I just today picked up toys from the Methodist church in Galena.

How many did you pick up?

I would say I picked [up] 200 toys, and they were collecting them for about a week.

And how many times, how frequently, do you pick up a bunch of toys like that?

Well, I’ve had 10 churches doing like programs for me, and getting money, anything that might help me.

How much money and toys or value of toys have you gotten?

I’ve passed out more than 150,000 toys.

One hundred and fifty thousand toys or $150,000 worth of toys?

One hundred and fifty thousand toys.

Oh, my gosh, that’s a lot of toys. That’s a lot of toys. That would fill this whole building!

[Laughs] I know.

OK, so how do you distribute them?

I send them in boxes, or if it’s a big wildfire, I’ll get a semi truck and fill the semi truck and go down and deliver the toys like that.

How long have you been doing this?

Three years, since I was 8 years old.

How did you get entered into the Huggable Heroes thing?

They don’t tell you who entered you. It’s kind of an anonymous thing.

So you went to St. Louis, Missouri. What happened there?

We got to tour the factory, and we had a lunch with all the people, and that’s where we got our awards and checks and stuff. And we got to tour the whole city.

Sounds like a lot of fun. You’re going to continue to do this for a while, right?

Heck, yes.

Do you have a telephone number for people to call if they want to help?

My email is on my website, which is My mom’s cell phone is (775) 527-2245.