The herd of brightly-colored stuffed animals filled our front porch with all the panache of an overblown Muppets production. They arrived by the dozens in gargantuan bags and boxes – Elmo, Kermit, Big Bird, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and enough Beanie Babies to strike envy in collectors everywhere. The cuddly creatures soon covered so much of our home that the cleaning lady surmised we were opening a toy store. In fact, we planned to give them out for free.

Meital had announced a stuffed animal drive for Israeli childrenIt all started when my then six-year-old daughter, Meital, asked me if there are kids in Israel who don't have toys. When I nodded, her eyes flew open. "Not even Barbies or stuffed animals?" she exclaimed. She immediately pulled out her purple knapsack and stuffed it with dolls. "I'm going to take this to them," she declared. Charmed by this outburst of altruism, I agreed to help her on our upcoming trip to Israel.

I forgot all about it until days later a neighbor offered to donate stuffed animals for "my daughter's project." Meital had announced a stuffed animal drive for Israeli children. Her teacher's enthusiastically joined the campaign by encouraging students to donate. My four-year-old son, not to be outdone, offered to collect stuffed animals at his nursery school. Soon, the animals were arriving at all hours and without notice. Some were from acquaintances and friends, but many were from strangers.

With each delivery, my daughter beamed, observing our community's keen concern for children in Israel. Some donations came with heartwarming notes. "What a wonderful idea. You should be so proud of your daughter," said one. "May you go from strength to strength," said another. "Thank you for doing this," said a third.

A young girl came to our door cradling a teddy bear in her arms. She was hesitant about giving up the beloved toy, but my daughter reassured her, "We're taking it to a child in Israel who needs it." The girl slowly handed over her bear. I was awed at the youngster's exquisite act of giving.

Initially, I anticipated we'd receive a handful of stuffed animals. Instead, we ended up with over 400.

When my husband saw our entire living room was covered in Jim Hensen décor, he inquired, "How are we getting all of this to Israel?" Good question, I thought, as I stuffed the toys into 12 oversized duffel bags. Clearly, professional expertise was needed, so I called Claire Ginsburg-Goldstein, head of "Bears for Bergenfield," an organization which has sent over 70,000 stuffed animals to sick and needy children in Israel. She obtained permission from the Israeli airline, ElAl, fto bring extra bags and then solicited volunteers to take the rest, helped us get a large van to the airport and offered a list of Israeli organizations where I could distribute the furry friends.

She declared us a security threat and insisted on checking each Elmo and Kermit for explosivesBut first, we needed to pass ElAl's airport security checkpoint. "Did anyone give you anything to take in your suitcase?" inquired the intimidating official glaring intently. I gulped, looked at the bag of toys and fessed up about our project. I expected a "kudos," or at least a smile from the official. Instead, she declared us a security threat and insisted on checking each Elmo and Kermit for explosives. Fortunately, every last cuddly cutie was given clearance to fly.

A few days later, we were distributing the toys at the children's ward of Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. We visited children who were lying motionless in hospital beds, some hooked up to tubes and machines. Sitting beside them were grim-faced parents who were puzzled when we walked in, certain we were in the wrong room. We explained that we brought stuffed animals donated by New Jersey Jews who wanted to wish them well. Their faces lit up. "That's beautiful," said one surprised mother after another.

My children took turns handing out the animals and their shouts of "Happy holiday!" and "Feel better soon!" reverberated through the halls. When we encountered a solemn faced child in a wheelchair, we held out various stuffed animals and grinned until he did too. A grandmother chased after us and grabbed my husband's arm. "You have no idea what you did for us today," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "You cheered everyone up. Thank you."

My daughter was pleased to see how the toys succeeded in generating happiness. A teenage patient requested a Winnie the Pooh, and each nurse wanted to take home a stuffed animal too (we obliged).

We delivered the rest of the stuffed animals to families living in Jerusalem's poorest neighborhoods. We entered decrepit homes where the paint peeled and the roof leaked. We met families with several children living in a one or two room dwelling. Some suffered from medical problems, like the seven-year-old girl who was left paralyzed by an illness, and the father with a severe heart condition. One mother was bedridden while her children were running around the house. None of the families owned a TV, car or electronic games. Nobody had backyards. My son immediately noticed that the children had few toys. When we gave the children stuffed animals, they acted as if we had brought them the world.

When our trip was all over, I asked my children how they felt. "We're lucky," mused my son, while his sister nodded.

My Uncle Motti, ever the pragmatist, says nachat (joy) from one's children comes rarely in a lifetime, so when it occurs, you must savor every bit of it. I figure I'm good for at least five years.