Teddy Bear Hugs can make ‘world of difference’

Posted: August 27, 2013

The Winchester Star

Godfrey Miller Historic Home and Fellowship Center in Winchester executive director Sharon Thornton shows Teddy bears like those that are made by volunteers for area children and the elderly. The group meets once a month. The next meeting is 10 a.m. Sept. 10 at the center, and volunteers are welcome. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
The Teddy Bear Hugs group will begin meeting next month at the Godfrey Miller Historic House and Fellowship Center. The bears are given to children and the elderly. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

Winchester — Sometimes the simplest gift can bring comfort and joy.

The small, stuffed teddy bears that the participants of the Teddy Bear Hugs program make are simple creations — two pieces of brightly colored fabric filled with stuffing.

But when given to a sick or scared child or a lonely and confused elderly person, they can make a world of difference, said Ruth Reier, chair of the program.

Once a month, a small group of women meet at the Godfrey Miller Historic Home and Fellowship Center in Winchester to stuff and sew the little bears, which are then distributed at different places in the community, she said.

“We started out just giving them to children, but I have also taken them to nursing homes because people with Alzheimer’s and dementia like to have something they can hold onto,” said Reier of Winchester.

The program, which was begun in 2004, starts a new season with a session at 10 a.m. Sept. 10 at Godfrey Miller. The group meets the second Tuesday of each month from September to May and is open to anyone.

Sharon Thornton, executive director of Godfrey Miller, said the program is a “perfect example of the giving nature of the people in this community. This is an old-fashioned event copied after getting together to make quilts in the old days and it helps form new friendships.”

When the group gets together, the bears are already sewn together and only require the finishing touches, making it possible for even those with eyesight or coordination problems to join the group, said Nancy Braswell, a volunteer with the group.

“We stuff them and those of us who can still see well enough to sew them stitch them up and put a bow on it,” said Braswell of Frederick County.

In 2012, participants finished 242 bears that were distributed to Spring Arbor of Winchester, Evergreen Health and Rehab Center, Apple Manor Nursing Home, Winchester Medical Center’s pediatric unit, Abba Care, and C-CAP, Reier said. At Christmas, a large number go to the Salvation Army to be handed out as gifts.

They also are distributed to the Winchester Police Department, rescue workers, and even the American Red Cross to give to children in traumatic situations for comfort, she said.

“Where we distribute them, it is always well received,” she said.

As an offshoot of the Teddy Bear Hugs program, volunteers started participating with Project Linus, a nationwide program making comfort blankets for children. In 2012, they finished 37 blankets for the program.

Also last year, they made 351 tote bags that were distributed by Winchester Medical Center’s Wellspring service to recently diagnosed cancer patients, Braswell said. The bags are stuffed with information about their disease.

The tote bags come in two sizes — small bags with little pillows inside for breast cancer bags and larger totes for all other kinds of cancer, she said. The pillows offer a cushion that can be used under a seat belt for a breast cancer patient who has had surgery or has sores from radiation.

The projects are a mixture of activities done when the group meets and at home, Reier said. She and Jean Clabaugh of Gore cut out the bears using a pattern and sew them at home. The blankets and tote bags also are done at home.

Of course doing that many projects requires a good bit of supplies — fabric, thread, and stuffing, Braswell said. The members buy supplies when needed, and the Godfrey Miller will help sometimes out of the program fund, but donations from the community also help.

Thread of any kind, even spools with not much left on them, and bags of washable polyfiber fill are needed for the bears and pillows, Braswell said. “It takes a lot of stuffing.”

They use cotton fabric — preferably ones with attractive small prints on them — that will appeal to children, men, and women, she said.

Especially helpful are small prints, children’s prints and fabrics that can be used for tote bags for men. Since the bears are only about 1 foot tall, small blocks of leftover fabric are also helpful.

“We have had some interesting animal prints. If you can cut the fabric so you get the animal face on the bear it is really cute,” she said.

Braswell loves doing crafts anyway, so getting to combine that with a social time makes for an entertaining time each month, she said. The participants gather around the mounds of fiber fill, stuff bears, and talk. It’s a laid back, chatty atmosphere.

“It’s a social group, too. We try to solve all the world’s problems while we are doing this,” she joked.


Teddy Bear Hugs group will meet at 10 a.m. Sept. 10. It meets the second Tuesday from September to May at the Godfrey Miller Historic Home and Fellowship Center, 28 S. Loudoun St., Winchester. The public is invited. For more information, contact Ruth Reier at 540-723-4969 or the Godfrey Miller Home at 540-667-5869.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com