DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (July 2020) – Sick and injured children arrive at Doylestown Hospital’s Emergency Department every day. The doctors, nurses and hospital staff provide them with the best care possible. Whether they are there for just an hour, for the day or must be admitted overnight, a hospital visit can be overwhelming and frightening. This is where the Pine Run Retirement Community Good Bears Club comes in.
Since 1989, a group of dedicated Pine Run villagers has been hand sewing cuddly teddy bears to help comfort children during their hospital stay at Doylestown Health. One of the oldest clubs at Pine Run, the Good Bears Club was founded by a former villager, Evelyn Purcell who brought the idea with her from Hawaii. Before moving to Pine Run, Purcell lived in Honolulu and participated in a similar group. The Good Bears Club at Pine Run has maintained a devoted group of villagers over the years, most of whom have a strong background in sewing and lifelong experiences in using those skills.
Group members typically meet weekly on Thursday mornings. The process to create the individual bears has not changed in over 30 years. They create a teddy bear production line, with one member tracing a hand-drawn pattern and another cutting, while someone else sews the faces on with thread, one stitches the bear together, and another is responsible for stuffing the plump bear. In a finishing touch, each bear gets a “Handmade by Villagers at Pine Run” tag.
Members of the Good Bears Club usually enjoy gathering in the Pine Run’s craft barn, but since the quarantine, members have been working on bears at their homes. Group co-chairs Becky Evinski and Betty Kitson have been at the heart of organizing and distributing materials among members so individuals can complete their phase of the teddy bear work in their own homes and safely transition the bears to the next step of assembly.
“With everyone at home, people are working really fast and producing a lot of bears,” Kitson said. “In fact, the 25,000th teddy bear was ‘born’ on April 1, during the pandemic.”
Over the years, the Good Bears Club has varied in size and meeting location, said Pat Marshall, a former chair of the group. She acknowledged the many people who have contributed to sewing more than 25,000 bears for the hospital to give to children.
A former Doylestown Health nurse herself, Marshall has seen first-hand the comfort a teddy bear can bring to a tiny patient. Shortly after arriving at Pine Run, she directed her husband to unpack a few boxes while she went to her first Good Bears Club meeting. She has been going every week since that first meeting 18 years ago.
That instant bond with the group and its members is shared by the current co-chairs, Evinski and Kitson. Evinski toured 10 retirement communities before visiting Pine Run, and when the Pine Run marketing team took her on a tour of the craft barn and she saw the women sewing teddy bears, she instantly knew that that was what she was going to do when she moved in. Kitson’s sister-in-law already was a member of the Good Bears Club by the time she moved into Pine Run 14 years ago.
Many members of the Good Bears Club have lifelong connections to sewing and other handiwork. Sewing always was a part of Marshall’s life; she recalled making her own clothing as a teenager and her children’s clothing when they were young. While other members bring different skills to the end goal, each step plays an important part of completing the bears.
Evinski and Kitson had just stepped into their new roles as co-chairs right before the pandemic of novel coronavirus began and have seen the group flourish during these challenging times.
“The bears really saved my sanity during the pandemic. It made me feel useful and gave me a purpose to get out of bed in the morning,” Evinski said. “We’ve had more sewers join since the pandemic, as everyone is looking for purpose during this time. There are only so many times you can clean your cottage or rearrange things before needing something else to do.”
Deliveries of the bears to Doylestown Hospital currently are on hold, due to the pandemic. The club has about 75 bears waiting at Pine Run to be delivered, once restrictions are lifted. Evinski and Kitson are looking forward to making the first delivery as co-chairs and delivering that extra special 25,000th bear.
“There is something magic about those soft teddy bears that brings so much comfort to everyone”, shares Ceil Krajewski, Senior Director of Villager Services. “The dedication and love members of the Good Bear Club put into creating every bear, knowing it will be given to someone who might be experiencing pain, fear, or tears, is something wonderful.”