Bears make a difference

By Ed Brock

Members of the Southside Council of BellSouth Telephone Pioneers just spent a year making teddy bears for children they'll never meet.

The children will be the victims of traffic accidents, fires or other situations in which they need the comfort a good snuggle with a friendly bear can offer.

"I gave three away at the scene of an accident involving a school bus," said Morrow Fire Chief David Wall. "The children were virtually uninjured but they were young and the bears helped."

The bears Wall used on that occasion were from last year's donation of bears, but last week the Pioneers donated 100 more bears to the Morrow, Riverdale and Forest Park fire departments.

"We've always used them up every year," Morrow Fire Capt. Donald Harry said. "It's amazing what a teddy bear can do."

It took about a year to make the "Hug-A-Bears," said Juanita Hunt, committee member at large for the Pioneers.

"They're handmade with nothing on them that could hurt the children," Hunt said. "Some of us make them at home and that's why we have so many."

The Pioneers are a national organization comprised of retired and current BellSouth employees and there are about 20 active members of the Southside Council. Hunt, 62, is retired.

Hunt said the bears are based on patterns provided by the organization. They are stitched together by three members of the Pioneers and then the rest of the club stuff the bears, paint their faces and attach decorations like ribbons.

"We have been very fortunate that other people have donated the material," Hunt said, adding that Hancock's Fabrics is a major contributor of material.

The Pioneers donate bears throughout the year to fire and police departments, battered women shelters and more.

Harry said the Morrow department also receives donations of bears from Target but the Hug-A-Bears "have a little loving care in them." Wall also appreciates the effort put into making the bears.

"They're all unique, they're all different," Wall said.

Using the bears helps the firefighters and emergency medical technicians as well, Forest Park Fire Maj. Paul Beamon said.

"It's a kind of distracter. It allows the EMT to assess the children a little bit easier rather than have them in an agitated state," Beamon said.

The Forest Park department also plans to begin using a similar device soon, a pacifier for infants that also administers medication to the child, Beamon said.

Other Pioneer projects include building at-home wheelchair ramps and "Project Linus." Similar to the Hug-A-Bear program, Project Linus involves sewing security blankets for children in crisis situations, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when Project Linus blankets were sent to children in New York.

They also make stockings for the Salvation Army, Hunt said.