Idaho Moments: Hospital bears

August 4, 2013 

Every Thursday morning from 9 to 11 (or a little earlier), the Teddy Bear Toy Factory goes into full production mode. That’s what these women like to be called, the dozen or so who laugh and share stories while they cut, sew and stuff teddy bears.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

“I believe in the mission — the mission of making a very scary thing for a child bearable,” says Jan Cunduff, unwittingly making a pun. “The longer I’m here, the more feedback we get about how much they’re cherished.”

The teddy bear makers, volunteers for St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, deliver 40 bears a week to about 10 places around the hospital for staff to distribute to children. They have delivered 23,930, to be exact — yes, they keep track — since the project started in 1998.

Evelyn Behnck remembers coming upon a little girl during a bear delivery; the girl was 1 or 2 years old and screaming. “She was raising Cain,” Evelyn says. “I walked in, grabbed a bear and said, ‘Hey, would you like a bear?’” When Evelyn offered a choice of colors, the girl quieted to make her choice.

“(I thought), if I can help by making bears, that’s the job for me.”

Originally, the bears were made from donated cloth, but last year, the bears underwent rigorous research — washed five times in the laundry — and now the ladies use only the fabric that lasts the longest. Bear faces used to be embroidered by hand but are now made by machine, at 58 cents each. The rest is made by hand. And by heart.

“The joy of this is ... almost every Thursday, somebody comes to the door and says, ‘You don’t know what a difference this has made in our child’s life,’” says Mary Ranck, who has been making bears since 1998.

“Those kind of stories warm my heart.”

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