A number of cars were seen gathering in the mall parking lot this weekend with their trunks open. Curious about what they were doing, I had to drive over and see what was going on for myself.

Was this some sort of spontaneous car show or tailgate party? As I approached the dozen or so cars I was still confused as to what was happening.

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Beside each car were people talking to each other and gesturing towards their trunks. As soon as I got close enough to see inside the vehicles I was surprised to see that they were completely filled with stuffed animals.

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After speaking with a few of the people assembled, I quickly learned that these weren't ordinary stuffed animals, they were Squishmallows. Of course, my next question was "What is a Squishmallow?"

It turns out that I may be one of only a few people in the Hudson Valley who doesn't know what a Squishmallow is. These stuffed critters are the newest collectible craze. You can think of them as the new Beanie Babies, but loyal collectors dismiss the comparison, claiming that these squishy little animals have more value and staying power.

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The group that I stumbled across meets up through gatherings organized on an online community. They used to meet in the Poughkeepsie Galleria parking lot near Sears but say they were kicked out by management. So now, they've moved to a vacant lot in the Shoppes at South Hills near Chuck E. Cheese.

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Collectors had tables set up and were fielding requests for trades and purchases from other Squishmallow lovers. While some people appeared to be there to make a profit off of these little pillows with eyes, others were just happy to show off their collection to the world.

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One young Squishmallow fan proudly showed off a cow that he says is worth $300. When I confirmed it with his mother, she exhaled deeply and said that I didn't want to know just how much money she's spent on Squishmallows this year.

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I'm a huge fan of people who are fans of things. There's something heartwarming about people who find each other and bond over common interests. And when those interests are really specific and a bit outside the mainstream, it makes that connection even more special.

The handful of people I talked to were elated to discuss their collections and share information about the world of Squishmallows. As an outsider, I don't really understand the appeal of these weird-looking pillows, but I do get how wonderful it is to find a community of like-minded people who will happily stand out in the cold on a Sunday afternoon to meet up with fellow collectors.

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If you happen to be a Squishmallow fan or think you may be interested in getting into the hobby, you may want to search Facebook for a local group. Apparently, there are plenty of other people out there who will be happy to help you with your collection.

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