But, few can boast they have affected the lives of more than 61,000 children — four times the Beeville population.
LaVerne Todd is 86 and takes it all in stride.
She is known as “The Bear Lady.”
In the last 18 years, she has led a group of ladies at the Adams Street Church of Christ in manufacturing — mostly by hand — 61,142 teddy bears for children in need: children hurt in accidents, children in hospitals, children just born.
THE BEEVILLE project began in 1994 while she was visiting her son and daughter-in-law in Edna.
Her son’s wife, Linda, had sewn bears to give to the Louisiana Highway Patrol to give to children in auto accidents.
Linda found the sewing pattern and gave it to Todd. “Here’s something you may be interested in doing,” Linda said.
It took LaVerne only a few minutes to see the advantage of giving teddy bears “to children who pass through the emergency room in our local hospital.”
Like priming a pump, she took the pattern, made one stuffed teddy bear and presented both the bear — and the idea — to the church’s Ladies Bible Class.
AT LATEST count, that was 61,141 bears and 18 years ago.
“The bears always calm the children down. All children like a teddy bear,” she says.
The group makes the bears using any kind of scrap fabric it can acquire and using the same pattern Todd used to make the first one.
“I’ve never timed it to see how long each bear takes,” she admits. “There’s a lot of procedures.”
Several: pinning the pattern on the fabric, cutting it out by hand, hand-painting the face, sewing the bear together, stuffing it, and hand-sewing the finished product. Then there’s the tag attached to the bear’s neck by a ribbon.
LaVerne does all the final stitching by hand and then distributes the bears.
“Many of the ladies don’t like to hand-sew,’ she says, “and it’s not for everyone.”
She recalls one volunteer who sewed six bears and announced, “It’s not my cup of tea.”
“It can be kind of boring, sitting there sewing those bears,” Todd reveals. “You just think about the child that’s going to be so happy to have one.”
The success of the Teddy Bear Program has spread, mostly by word of mouth.
Not long ago, for instance, the local health department asked Todd to pick up a large package of fabric scrap that someone had donated to the program.
The group has distributed bears to the local emergency room, walk-in clinics, the Texas Department of Health and the Women’s Shelter.
The Teddy Bear Program took on even greater significance in late August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina used New Orleans as a bull’s-eye.
Todd sent 24 dozen bears to storm victims through the Katrina Disaster Relief effort.
She has 39 packages of completed dolls in the closet of her home, east of Beeville.
“We like to stay ahead,” she says, and then laughs.
“When we completed our first 1,000 bears, one of the ladies said we should have a party. Well, we’ve never had that party. We don’t have time for a party.”
She keeps a few extra bears in the trunk of her car for emergencies.
“I was visiting an allergy clinic when I heard a child crying,” she recalls. “I went out to the car to get a bear and told the nurse to give the bear to the child. Almost immediately, the child stopped crying.”
And, they are not just for children.
“A lady in her 70s was getting a flu shot at the Health Department,” Todd says. “She saw the bears there and took one.”
TODAY, SO many members of the Ladies Bible Class have come and gone in the last 18 years, LaVerne can’t remember them all.
While the pattern has remained the same, the group expanded the destination of the bear in 2001.
“We started delivering the bears to the local maternity wards at Christus Spohn Hospital.
The bears are placed in an envelope made out of two pieces sewn together with a heart cut out on the top page to reveal the bear’s face. On the front is written “Congratulations on the birth of your new baby!”
Of all the bears that Todd has sewn and delivered, she has kept but one.
“I made a pin cushion out of it.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.