Mariah’s Wishes: Healing hearts, making a difference one stuffed animal at a time
Mariah Roat was completing her last semester at Santa Rosa Junior College in 2013 with plans to attend a four-year college to study marketing when she found out she had stage 4 colon cancer.
Once the initial shock wore off, the 2009 Cloverdale High School grad’s positive, can-do attitude kicked back in. Within three days of her unexpected diagnosis, friends started planning fundraisers, with one group organizing a raffle that raised nearly $1,500 in only seven hours.
Roat had the kind of personality that drew people to her and a smile that could light up a room. She was usually at the center of any gathering, so when she died at the age of 23 in August 2014, just 10 months after her diagnosis, her friends and family were devastated.
Her big brother, Chris Boblitt, 32, struggled that first year. He felt he needed to find a way to channel his grief into something positive to honor his sister’s memory. He eventually came up with an idea to hand deliver teddy bears to sick children at Sutter, Kaiser and Santa Rosa Memorial hospitals during the Christmas holidays.
One night he had a dream and the name “Mariah’s Wishes” kept coming up. He knew then that needed to be the name.
“The first year I started this, I received approximately 50 teddy bears, which was amazing, and I was super excited to deliver them all,” recalled Boblitt, of Petaluma. “Then 2016 happened, and I was able to deliver a stunning total of 835 stuffed animals.”
The numbers have continued to increase each year. Boblitt estimates he has handed out more than 5,000 teddy bears and other stuffed animals in the past five years.
While continuing to deliver to hospitalized children in San Francisco, Oakland and throughout the North Bay, Boblitt has extended his outreach to include fire victims in Lake and Sonoma counties, local women’s shelters and students with special needs. The farthest he has traveled is to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera.
In 2016, he learned about a 12-year-old boy named Campbell Remass, who was doing something similar in Hobart, Australia, except this young man was personally designing and sewing all the bears he distributed. He offered to send a few of his handmade bears to Boblitt.
Several local businesses, including Kay’s Jewelers, T.L. Tillett’s Automotive, Mercedes Benz of Santa Rosa, and the PetSmart stores in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park have collected both stuffed animals and donations. Boblitt, who works as a heavy equipment operator, said his credit union, OE Federal Credit Union, also has gotten involved.
“They created teddy bears wearing orange safety vests with “Mariah’s Wishes” printed on the back,” he said. “Credit union members can buy a bear and then leave it in a collection box for me to pick up. The response has been tremendous, and I’ve been overwhelmed by their generosity.”
Usually, it’s just Boblitt and his girlfriend, Mikaela Gannon, who make all the deliveries, but others have joined them a number of times, including family members and credit union employees.
Not long ago, one of the employees at Boblitt’s work lost someone close to her. After some time had passed, he asked if she would like to come along and help deliver teddy bears to the children. He said she not only enjoyed the experience, she found it very healing.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me that so many people are helping to keep my little sister living on by honoring her like this,” Boblitt said.
Before moving into his current home, Boblitt said his garage and apartment were being taken over by stuffed animals.
“Everywhere I’d look, there were boxes and plastic bags of stuffed animals,” he said, laughing. “Having more room has made a huge difference.”
Business and community members wanting to become part of the Mariah’s Wishes team can contact Boblitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-975-6454.