Good stuff: Group’s homemade bears bring joy to children

  • Left, Beverly Foster, Pat Mullins and Linda Tulay laugh as they stuff bears that are later donated to hospitals and children in the area. The women are members of the local chapter of New Vision Pioneers.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Florence Dmytryk and Gloria Parker talk while sewing bears that are later donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pat Mullin fills a bear with stuffing. The finished bears are later donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joyce Porter ties ribbons on stuffed bears that are later donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joyce Porter ties ribbons on stuffed bears that are later donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A pile of finished bears that are donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A pile of finished bears that are donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nancy Hall counts 25 bears as she fills a bag to be donated to hospitals and children in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 12/24/2019 10:51:28 AM

WILLIAMSBURG — While some seniors find joy in book clubs and cribbage games, one group makes the most of their free time by giving back to the youth of the Pioneer Valley.

This month, women from the local chapter of New Vision Pioneers spent a morning in the back room of The Brewmaster’s Tavern in Williamsburg putting the final touches on more than 100 homemade stuffed bears to be donated. The volunteer organization produces more 1,000 “Hug-A-Bears” annually, and the holidays have by no means swayed production. In fact, the group estimates it has already made 1,200 bears so far this year.

The bears are distributed to local hospitals and given to children in the hospital or medical lab. The children are encouraged to take them home with them. Joyce Porter, 76, described the gratitude she receives from hospital workers while tying colorful ribbons on the bears.

“The nurses tell me how much the kids love the bears,” she said. “I go into the lab and see the bears on the shelves and say, “I may have worked on that one.”

A bulk of the work, from cutting crude fabric to sewing most of the edges, is done at home. The volunteers convene once a month to finalize the toys and were recently observed stuffing, labeling, and topping off each bear with a ribbon. Joan Carney, 85, the group’s acting president, said the volunteers only pay for the stuffing and labels. The fabrics, ribbons, and sewing supplies are donated directly to the organization.

Carney, along with many of the other women in the group, said she has two reasons to stay involved. One part was to give back to children in the community, but also the camaraderie that comes with the work.

“This is our world, we love it,” Carney said. “We’re doing this to stuff bears but also to see our friends.”

Porter agreed: “This is a great group.”

Next to an industrial-sized bag filled with finished bears was a cake dedicated to Florence, a woman tasked with stuffing the bears, who turned 91 this month.

The New Vision Pioneers formed out of members of the Telephone Workers of America, the largest American communications and media relations labor union. Many of them worked as switchboard operators in the 1960s, when telephone operators connected callers by physically plugging in wires.

Both men and women volunteer for community aid projects through New Vision Pioneers across the country. The organization’s Denver branch covers most of New England as well as some parts of New York and takes the lead in many community development projects. Besides more traditional donations such as school and food pantry supplies, the group has historically gone above and beyond, Carney said. At the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, mechanically inclined members installed textphones, similar to a fax machine, in the school’s dorms. This allowed former students to communicate even when they were on different floors.

When members of the Denver branch began reaching senior ages, they sought to find work that doesn’t require much travel or high energy. Then they heard about an operation similar to Hug-A-Bears in Springfield that was looking for more help. New Vision Pioneer Katherine Mason, now 85, spearheaded the project and welcomed two dozen volunteers into her home in Northampton to help assemble the stuffed animals.

“Once they come, they don’t stop,” Mason said, referencing that the women in attendance are well acquainted with the building process. “We have fun, we do it for the children and, really, to be social.”

Jinny Daniels and her sister have been making Hug-A-Bears since it began at Mason’s house. They even recall when they would meet up to stuff bears at Burger King when they didn’t have a stable location to gather.

“I’ll come back as long as I can,” Daniels said.

Porter has been making Hug-A-Bears for more than a decade and hopes that tradition will continue through her 17-year-old granddaughter, who started helping the group in recent years.




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