MANAHAWKIN, NJ — Each year the Manahawkin-based charity Bear Hugs brings a little magic to hospitals on Christmas Eve by hand-delivering stuffed teddy bears to sick children who cannot be home for the holidays.
Although the volunteers cannot deliver the teddy bears in-person this year, Bear Hugs is still fundraising to ensure hospitalized children receive a new fuzzy friend by Christmas morning.
Tracey Brummer, a founder of Bear Hugs, has a passion for bringing smiles to the faces of hospital children. Her daughter Samantha, 21, has been in and out of hospitals since she was born. Tracey still remembers smiling when she woke up to see toys all around her one-month-old daughter's hospital bed on Christmas morning in 1999.
"I thought 'Oh God I can't believe the kids get remembered.' I'm so happy. I never realized that," Tracey said. "It's so important, even for the parents—not because there's gifts there. It's that they're remembered."
In 2007, Samantha and her sister, Maggie, wanted to bring smiles to other hospitalized children during the holidays. With their four best friends, the young girls raised money to purchase teddy bears from Build-A-Bear, customized each one with a handmade scarf and delivered them to hospitals where Samantha had been a former patient.
"What really makes a difference is when the parents are there and they're bring their babies or kids that have feeding tubes and breathing tubes... I let them know 'This is Samantha and she had all those same tubes' and they see her standing there 21 years later and they see a sign of hope," Tracey said. "That to me is why we do it and keep doing it. As long as we keep getting donations, we'll never stop."
Bear Hugs accepts monetary donations so they can purchase teddy bears directly from stores like Build-A-Bear, Walmart and Five Below. Since the price of a bear varies from store to store, Tracey assures donors that any amount of money they can give will make a difference.
In the charity's first year, volunteers handed out 17 teddy bears to sick children. This year, Bear Hugs is aiming to surpass last year’s donation of 583 bears. According to Brummer, they are about 100 bears away from achieving their goal.
“Even if it's by one bear, it's our goal," Tracey said. "We want to spread it to as many kids in that hospital as we can."
Bear Hugs delivers teddy bears to sick children at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and Southern Ocean Medical Center’s Pediatric Care Center in Manahawkin.
Although volunteers usually decorate the teddy bears with a handmade scarf and a tag that’s signed from Bear Hugs, Tracey said they cannot put a personal touch on the bears this year due to coronavirus concerns. The bears will also be delivered to the hospital a day earlier than usual to give them extra time to air out before they are distributed.
Tracey said the most significant drawback this year is that the volunteers won't be able to see the smiles and joy among the children when the teddy bears are handed out.
"When we give them out, every single person whether it's a one-year-old or a 16-year old, the first thing they do is give the bear a bear hug," Tracey said. "We look for that because it's such a big deal just to be remembered."
Bear Hugs is holding a fundraiser at TGI Fridays in Manahawkin on Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., where the restaurant will donate 15% of a customer's bill to the charity if they present the Bear Hugs fundraising flyer.
People can also make donations directly to the charity. Details on how to send donations through mail and Venmo can be found here. Bear Hugs accepts donations all year-round that go toward purchasing teddy bears each holiday season.
Click here to get Patch email notifications on this or other local news articles or get Patch breaking news alerts sent right to your phone with our app. Download here. Follow Barnegat-Manahawkin Patch on Facebook.
Have a news tip? Email email@example.com.