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KinderCare Learning Centers donate more than 1,500 stuffed animals for patients at Akron Children’s

3-year-old Charlee helps her mom, Amy Wise, unload the teddy bears.

3-year-old Charlee helps her mom, Amy Wise, unload the teddy bears.

It took several minivans and even a KinderCare bus to deliver all of the donations collected during KinderCare’s community teddy bear drive last week.

According to Amber Bowling, district manager at KinderCare, the 27 regional child care centers collected 3,750 bears, thanks in part to WEWS Channel 5 spreading the word about the details of the drive.

The 1,500 bears donated to Akron Children’s Hospital were collected at 10 local sites, including Richfield, Canton, North Canton, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Green, Fairlawn, Wadsworth and Medina. The rest of the bears will be distributed to patients at the Cleveland Clinic.

The idea for the drive was conceived last year by a Mentor teacher who had a hospitalized child over the holidays. The Mentor location was able to collect 250 bears and a lot of good will.

Inspired by the success of last year’s drive, KinderCare decided to collect bears at all the locations this year.

Brandi Bowers, manager of the Richfield facility, said the drive fills a need.

Unloading-the-bus“There’s not enough people who give back anymore and we want to change that,” said Bowers, adding that it’s a great lesson for the kids. “All our kids are talking about it and wondering which little boy or girl will get the bears they collected.”

She said the teachers role play with the kids to help them understand the meaning of the donations.

“I would say to them, ‘How would you feel if you were sick and in the hospital on Christmas?’ and they say, ‘Sad,’” said Bowers. “Then I would say, ‘What if Santa brought you a bear while you were in the hospital? How would that make you feel?’ and they say, ‘Good.’ They get it.”

Amy Wise, assistant director of the North Canton location, knows from experience how much a cuddly friend can mean to a hospitalized child.

Her 2 daughters have been patients at Akron Children’s several times for surgeries ranging from diaphragmatic hernia repairs and open heart surgery to ear tubes and tonsillectomies.

“The impact these stuffed animals have are huge,” she said, holding her 3-year-old daughter, Charlee. “After my daughter Ruthann’s heart surgery, the staff used Beanie Babies under all her limbs to help position her. She got to bring those home with her. We’ve been given blankets, Pinky the puppets and stuffed animals during all our hospital stays. These animals bring great comfort during a difficult time.”

Gerri Sexton, volunteer coordinator at Akron Children’s Hospital, was moved to tears by the volume of the donation. She and her staff needed 4 large linen carts to haul the donations to the volunteer department.

Stuffed animals in volunteer office

Stuffed animals in volunteer office

“The impact these stuffed animals will have on our kids will be felt for a long time,” said Sexton. “It will certainly help make the holidays brighter for our kids, and that’s so important. In fact, a donation of this size will allow us to give these stuffed animals to patients well into the new year.”

Bowers said to expect even more bears next year.

“The locations are very competitive and we’re already thinking about next year. I predict we’ll collect 6,000 bears next year.”