SPOTLIGHT: Teddy Bears With Heart
Teddy Bears With Heart spreads love to kids, the elderly and terminally ill patients in need of comfort.
By Pam Marino
Eight years ago, Susan Hanson had a dilemma. She had more than 450 teddy bears she’d collected since childhood, but had to move and knew they couldn’t all come with her. Her goal was to donate the bears to somewhere they would make a difference. A chance conversation at a party with a fire captain soon revealed the answer: He mentioned he could take a couple of the bears on his firetruck to give to frightened children he and his crew encountered.
Hanson, who lives in Seaside, called other fire and police departments in Monterey County and soon discovered there was a real need for the stuffed animals. It wasn’t long before she started a nonprofit called Teddy Bears With Heart. Her official title as its leader is “ChairBear.”
The idea is simple. The toys are a warm and cuddly “hug” for children in crisis, lonely senior citizens and the terminally ill. “They’re not judgemental, they don’t talk back,” Hanson says. “They’re just there to give you unconditional comfort.”
Since she started the all-volunteer organization, she and her team have distributed more than 60,000 bears – along with a menagerie of other animals including puppies, giraffes, mice, snakes and sea creatures – in Monterey County and as far away as Napa. She also gets calls from other parts of the country and even overseas. If she can figure out how to get the toys there, she will. Hanson works full-time in sales for a translation company, and estimates she works full-time for TBWH as a volunteer.
In the beginning she accepted donations of used bears, but health and safety regulations now require new toys only. They distribute to seven hospitals, including Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. The group sends 500 bears a week to Mee Memorial in King City alone, where the bears are given away to children in the hospital as well as clinics around rural South County.
Sometimes there aren’t enough donated bears or enough money to buy bears – the nonprofit has a deal with Beanie Baby company Ty to buy toys for $3 each – to fulfill the demand of more than 100 agencies on TBWH’s list. Hanson estimates they would need 184,000 bears each year to do that.
“The Big Idea is to bring comfort and help to as many people as we can and spread the love,” she says. “I can’t give everybody a hug. This is my way to do that.”