For the past three months, members of the Cabarrus Quilters Guild have sewn more than 100 stuffed bears, which they then donated to Victory Junction Gang Camp.
The bears will go to kids with chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses, such as autism and cancer. The camp has touched the lives of more than 14,000 children and families from all 50 states and four countries since it opened in 2004.
The quilters guild’s donation of bears is one of the largest made throughout the years, according to a camp official. The camp has handed out roughly 1,700 bears per year since opening. About 900 to 1,000 campers visit the camp each year, but anytime a potential camper visits, they go home with a bear.
Most groups donate five or 10 bears, but one woman donated 100 stuffed horses and 100 bears. Campers get either a bear or a “Vic the Horse” mascot.
The next-largest effort was by Sandy Miller. The resident of New London in Stanly County has sewn bears for the camp for four years. She also taught tricks to members of the Cabarrus Quilters Guild for making the bears more quickly. She said her group of 35 sewing enthusiasts has contributed at least 500 bears over the years. They made 188 this year.
“The kids stay in houses painted red, yellow, blue and green,” said Miller. “Some of them are return campers, and when they go to their cottages, on each bed is an afghan and a bear. And the kids that have been there in previous years run around and exchange their bears, because they know the ropes. They also share in various activities with bears.”
The bears are 18 inches tall and made of black-and-white checkered fabric or an array of colorful and vivid patterns. Barbara Orr, vice president of the Cabarrus Quilters Guild, said each bear takes three to four hours to make.
“Each one is individual.…,” she said. “The way their nose points up sort of gives them each their own personality, and the bright colors really make them come alive. They’re soft and squishy, but not too squishy.
“For some campers, it’s their first time away from home, and the bears can bring a sense of having something they can hold on to and call their own until they get acclimated,” Orr said.
The birth of the bear is an interesting thing, said Orr.
“As you put it together, it’s right-side in, and you sew everything up to the neck hole,” she said. “Then you have to pull the body through a (3-inch) opening, and it’s just like giving birth. … The Saturday we did it as a group; everyone that got to that point would say, ‘I’m giving birth,’ and everyone would clap.”
Tom and Connie Richardson have been involved with the guild for about three years. The duo made nearly one-third of the 107 bears the club donated. Tom is one of two men who are active with the guild. He said a sewing machine is a power tool.
“And guys love power tools,” he said.
Tom gained interest in sewing after watching his wife making quilts over the years.
“She cut out all the material for the 35 bears that we did, and I just helped sew them together,” said Tom. “Then she stuffed them all. These kids are really sick, so to be a part of it is very gratifying.”
Guild president Carol Harris said the project was simply fun.
“When we get together, it’s not just the creation of our project, but it’s the fellowship,” she said. “We have a blast doing it. We make a mess, and who cares?”
The guild was started by a handful of members in the early 1970s. Known originally as the Happy Quilters, the group eventually formed as a nonprofit charitable organization and changed its name. Some original members are still involved.
The only requirement for membership is to make a cuddle quilt for the Cabarrus Victims Assistance Network (CVAN), a domestic violence program. The nonprofit has provided safety, shelter and support for battered women and their children in Cabarrus County since 1982. The group has made 100 cuddle quilts annually for more than a decade.
“When women and children arrive at CVAN, they often have nothing,” said Harris “But we give them something they can hold, wrap up in. ... It’s a way of saying, ‘Someone really does care about you.’ ”
Members also have made pillowcase dresses as part of a local Girl Scout’s effort tied to Samaritan’s Purse, an international nonprofit known for its shoebox gift program, Operation Christmas Child. The group sewed more than 300 dresses for the cause.
“They did not expect that many, and they were included in some of the shoeboxes,” said Harris.
The group made nearly 50 sets of patriotic-themed strips that eventually were made into quilts of valor for returning soldiers. They’ve also made dozens of jewelry bags to support autism awareness efforts and 150 quilts for people who attend a grief camp near Lake Wiley.
The group takes on multiple local and regional projects per year. Members said the teddy bear project is a tradition they’re committed to keeping alive.
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