By Alyssa Dearborn
Since its founding in 2011, The Bear Team has brought over 14,700 Build-a-Bear stuffed animals to children receiving care and treatment at Golisano Children’s Hospital. The bears serve not only as companions and comfort objects for the children, but also as reminders that the children and their families are not alone in their difficult time. Making sure that new bears arrive at the hospital each month is a mission that Glenda Stowell, her husband, and the team of volunteers dedicate themselves to on a daily basis.
“I’ve always been a busy person and we do keep busy.” Glenda replied when asked about how she started the organization, “And what happened was we went to Golisano Children’s Hospital – it had just opened up – to see if they needed any help. They were looking to do something for these poor kids who come in for surgery. Some are flown in, and they’re scared and they have nothing. So we decided on the Build-a-Bear program. And once we got home, my husband and I talked about it. And our first delivery was for 40 bears. Since then, we now deliver about 200 a month…And we do it every single month and I am proud to say we’ve never missed a month through COVID. And let me tell you, it was hard.”
In order to raise enough money, sew enough bear-sized scrubs, and collect enough stuffed Build-a-Bear plushes for The Bear Team’s monthly drops, Glenda works with about 25 volunteers. These volunteers help with essential tasks including sewing, fundraising, and finding opportunities for the organization.
“So many of our volunteers work out of their homes, giving all of their love and time at least one day here, most often two days a week this time of year,” she said about the team.
When asked how the monthly bear drives are organized, she reinforced how the operation is a team effort.
“How do I organize? Working 24 hours a day!” She laughed, “We have a team effort. We all work together. Somebody knows about a craft fair, they call me. They co do the craft fair. We had a big raffle, that’s our main focus. So if anybody wants to help, they can go and call any of the phone numbers that are on Facebook. That’s the best thing. They go to Facebook and they can find out what we do, what we need. That’s our big organizational thing, I guess.”
A major part of The Bear Team’s mission involves sewing small scrubs to dress up each bear as a nurse or doctor. The crafting heavily relies on both volunteer time and fabric donations.
“I have a great person who takes care of the sewing and she organizes with who sews and what they turn in. We, of course, ask for materials. We don’t have to buy it much because we’re really lucky with people donating. They seem to find us when, maybe when somebody [who sews] in their family passes or gets sick and can’t do that anymore. They give us all their stuff.”
“We’re making do.” Glenda continued, “We’re buying a lot of baskets. And one of the things we do for organization is that everything that comes in is cleaned, we put it in baskets, so when the sewer comes in and needs the material, they have that. We did not have that until our sewer came on. It’s been a big help. It’s allowed us to grow more.”
Despite all the hard work that comes with surprising and comforting ill children with new teddy bears, the outcome is both rewarding and heartwarming for Glenda and her team.
“It’s the pictures we get from the kids and their moms with them holding the bears, thanking us. It’s the little things to us. Like, oh my goodness, this is a wonderful thing, when a mother just wanted to give you a thank you. Little things,” Glenda said, when asked what the most rewarding part of the organization’s work is. “We had a little boy send us his money he’d earned and saved all year so he could give back because he had gotten a bear. It’s the little things that come back and I hear with all the girls. And that’s the feeling of you’re doing something that helps somebody else. And not only the child who received the bear, but the family as well. When that child cuddles into that bear, it’s such a relief to the parent.”
If you are interested in donating or becoming a volunteer with The Bear Team, contact Glenda Stowell at 315-298-5308 or at [email protected].