Littlest angels get a helping hand from Bear Hugs for Babies

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

It started as just a few little teddy bears collected for children in the local hospital.

Now, it’s becoming a beacon of hope for what Philip Brown likes to call his newborn angels. Brown is the founder of Bear Hugs for Babies, a group which provides care baskets filled to the brim with diapers, bottles, clothing, books and everything else a newborn baby will need. Each basket has a teddy bear and a book. Some have hand-knitted hats or booties made by volunteers.

But mostly, they are filled with love.

A decade after those first few bears were collected for sick children, Bear Hugs for Babies has helped nearly 2,000 newborn infants from needy families. Brown is proud to say that his group has never turned anyone away.

The group relies on donations of money or items for newborns. You can also “adopt” a teddy bear for $20, volunteer or host a theme party. Adopted bears can include a note sent to the newborn from the donor.

Bear Hugs for Babies cannot accept baby formula, used car seats or used cribs. But they can accept a whole range of other items for newborn infants.  Diapers in size one are always useful. Other suggestions include:  newborn pacifiers, baby bottles, newborn socks, booties and hats, onesies, gowns, receiving blankets, cotton swabs, bibs, infant mittens, baby powder, baby wipes, rectangular laundry baskets, gas cards (for the delivery van), nail clippers for infants etc. Donations are tax deductible.

Bear Hugs even has its own mascot. Kody O’ Bear has written a book, showed up in parades and even talks to kids in school.  Brown’s alter ego wants to encourage children to learn, to fire an enthusiasm for school that will help them succeed and reach for their dreams.

Kody speaks to pre-school students, sings songs and reads because Brown believes that reading can fire a love of learning that can change young lives. “They are all hungry to learn,” he said last summer. “They can, at that age, go one way or another depending on what influences they have . . . Basically, we try to get the kids really enthused about loving to read.”

Kody has written a book entitled “The Adventures of Kody O’Bear” and a second book is on the way. Kody’s Fun Learning Network is up and running and Kody’s Reading Explorers is in the works. You can find out more about Kody by going to www.kodyobear.com.

But the care baskets are Kody’s first love. The total number of newborns helped by Bear Hugs for Babies  is 1,818.  The days of a part-time job are long since over for Brown and his volunteers.

“It’s very full-time,” laughed Brown. “It’s not 9 to 5. Because as everyone knows, babies don’t come 9 to 5.”

“The best part is when I deliver the baskets personally,” he said. “Some families just take the infant and put it in your arms as a way of saying thank you.”

Bear Hugs clients are referred to them by hospitals, La Red, the Department of Health and Social Services and many other agencies and organizations which refer a newborn after the state of need has been verified. A Bear Hugs care basket is carefully created and delivered to the newborn’s family or guardian at the hospital or agency.

“I thank all of our varied and far-reaching volunteers and supporters for being so dedicated in helping God’s newborn angels obtain the essentials that provide them with a warm and loving start in life,” Brown said.

With the economy still sputtering, he said most recipient are people who you would never think would need a helping hand. They are often people just down the street who may have lost a job or fallen on tough times.

Testimonials, some from families who received gifts, speak of having nothing or of losing everything in a fire on the day a baby was born.

“As public nurses, we regularly witness how your “Baskets of Love” help at-risk infants, whose families ar struggling with financial and social challenges. Your beautiful baskets containing quilts, teddy bears and vital supplies are a ray of sunshine for these families,” wrote Barbara Clements, Pamela Sorce and Lisa Rohlfing.

The group is also looking for people to join its’ community relations team to help spread the word about Kody and Bear Hugs. Eric Montgomery is the new community relations director, a volunteer position, for  Bear Hugs. He can be reached at  Eric@bearhugsforbabies.org.

For more information about Bear Hugs for Babies, go to www.Bearhugsforbabies.org or call 226-5523. The website includes a complete list of needed items.

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