Published February 17, 2009
Volume 17, Number 2

Good News Bears Spread Power of ‘Stuffed Love’     

“There’s something about a stuffed animal that makes a connection with people,” observes Jeanie Haigh, who chairs The Good News Bears, a local non-profit that distributes cuddly critters to people suffering trauma, loss, loneliness, or illness. The emotional benefit may be unexplainable, she admits, but it is also undeniable. “I’ve seen stuffed animals given to people of all ages and genders during trauma or illness,” she continues. “You can see a look of comfort come over their faces. The critter means that somebody cares.” 

Haigh has had the opportunity to deliver these soothing messages personally as far afield as Japan, but most Good News Bears distribution occurs closer to home, and usually through other organizations. “We stock about 65 agencies on a regular basis,” she notes. Members of the state highway patrol always have two Good News bears, in miniature T-shirts sporting the group’s Teddy logo, in the car to give out when the need arises. They are also standard in many emergency vehicles, homeless shelters, hospitals, and grief classes. 

Founded in Livermore in 1996, the Good News Bears is essentially a group of volunteers always on the look-out for places that can benefit from their version of “stuffed love.” Regular outreach to other community groups helps to spread the word. “Every time I speak about our program to an organization, I meet someone else who has a need,” Haigh says, citing as a recent example the pilot who came forward at a Rotary meeting expressing an interest in having stuffed animals on hand when he volunteers to transfer patients from rural areas to major medical centers. Serendipitous encounters like this are responsible for pushing total annual distribution up from the initial few hundred to today’s average of 8,000 stuffed animals per year.

Where do all the creatures come from? Some recipient organizations require the animals they give away to be brand-new, so the group makes purchases from a regular supplier. Donations, however, make up the lion’s share of inventory, and the public has been very generous in responding to collection campaigns.  Many people have gently used stuffed animals sitting on a shelf and are happy to recycle them on to a good cause, Haigh points out.

“We just had a Girl Scout troop collect at school,” she reports. “They came up with 550 critters for us.” Businesses can also mount collection campaigns. For those with branches or multiple sites, it’s the chance to engage in a little friendly rivalry. For instance, the manager of a local hotel chain set up a competition among four properties, with collection barrels in the lobby where employees and guests can drop off their contributions.

Where do the critters hibernate while waiting for a new home? Several years ago, a Livermore businessman offered the group an empty office, which has been serving as their headquarters ever since. “It’s a wonderful arrangement,” Haigh says. It typifies her experience of a willing community: “Once people know there is a need they can fill, they step up to the plate to fill it.”

For more information about how to participate, visit www.goodnewsbears.org or call Haigh at (510) 409-6754.


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