United Methodist youth make teddy bears for kids in trouble
March 25, 2004
A UMNS Feature By Amy Green*
Vickie McDonald knew it was a good idea as soon as she heard it.
The wife of a pastor and firefighter in Lawrence County, Tenn., McDonald had been touched by the way a child had clung to a teddy bear given to her by emergency workers after a fire destroyed the child's home. So when she heard a proposal that young people make bears for kids in trouble at an annual youth conference, she was thrilled.
"I knew of at least one child (for whom) it had really made a difference in her life,'' she says.
Assembling the bears became perhaps the biggest activity at the conference. Some 300 youth gathered in Nashville in February to stuff, stitch and sketch faces on about 400 bears that were later given to police departments, fire departments and other emergency workers across Tennessee.
The conference annually draws middle-school and high-school kids from across the state for a weekend of worship, fellowship and mission work. But this activity reached far beyond the event. Even before the conference began, United Methodists were rummaging through old fabric scraps and stitching them together to donate.
McDonald, the workshop director at the Warmth In Winter conference, never expected so many bears.
"There is no way to describe what it's like when you've got 400 bears done, knowing where they're going," she says. "It was a really, really great feeling."
The idea sprang from a conference planning meeting last summer. Organizers were looking for mission work they could do for their state.
"Policemen often deal with children who don't have their adult guardians with them," says Pam Wells, youth director at First United Methodist Church in Savannah, Tenn., who organized the activity at the conference. The bears "help the child feel comforted, and they're also a bridge for the policeman to talk to that child," she says.
Organizers began by inviting United Methodists across the state to dig through old fabric scraps for anything that could be stitched together as a bear. These United Methodists stitched the scraps together, turned them inside-out and threaded hundreds of needles for youth at the conference to use. All supplies were donated.
At the conference, youth stuffed the bears, stitched them closed and sketched faces on them with laundry markers. The youth finished with boxes stuffed with bears - some striped, others with polka dots and others with fur.
"It was really amazingly fun to watch," Wells says. "Those who knew how to sew helped those who didn't know how to sew. ... And (the youth) got an opportunity to think about the kids they're helping. Though they'll never see those kids, all kids know what a comfort a teddy bear is at a time of stress.''
For McDonald, watching the bears pile up was a special thrill. The grandmother of that child who had lost her home in a fire told McDonald's husband, pastor of Shoates Creek United Methodist Church and director of fire and security in Lawrenceburg, that the child had hung tight to that bear for weeks.
Police in Smyrna, Tenn., got at least 30 bears from the conference. Spokesman Sgt. Ken Hampton says the department long has used stuffed animals to comfort young victims of crime. The toys show the children, for example, that the officers who arrested their family members are trying to help, he says. Officers will keep the bears handy in their patrol cars.
"Officers who don't deal with a lot of kids that often, it makes dealing with them a lot easier," he says. "It lets them realize that we're really not bad people."
Tyler Power, 12, of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., wonders who will get the bear he made during the conference. He says he had fun stitching up his bear while chatting with friends.
"I kind of wanted to know where it would go, who it would go to and what they would do with it, and how they would feel," says Power, who attends the same church as McDonald. "It would just be cool because if I knew who they were, I wanted to see the look on their face when they got their teddy bear."
*Green is a freelance journalist based in Nashville, Tenn. News media can contact Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.