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Baptists continue tradition of teddy bear ministries for hurting childrencomment (0)

July 10, 2008

By Jeremy Dale Henderson

Don’t say that Betty French has a bear problem. It’s true she’s got more teddy bears in her basement than most people have ever seen in their lives — but she knows exactly what to do with them.

De-tag ’em, bag ’em, give ’em away. Find more, then repeat.

French, a member of Hillabee Baptist Church, Alexander City, in Tallapoosa Baptist Association, is the teddy bear ministry project leader for the association’s Woman’s Missionary Union. She’s in charge of collecting teddy bears from local churches — and anywhere else she can find them — and then distributing them to local hospitals, police departments, doctors’ offices and wherever else a child in a difficult situation might most need a friend.

The bears come in labeled bags that read, "Given in the name of Jesus." Alexander City-area highway patrolmen often keep them in the trunks of their squad cars, and fireman keep them on the engine, just in case.

"The bears really do help calm the children down," French said.

Head of the teddy bear ministry for five years, French estimates she has helped hand out more than 2,000 of the stuffed animals. She’s always looking for more, and when she walked into a doctor’s office in Dadeville last fall, bears in tow, she found them.

"I went in and asked if they’d like to have some bears," French said. "One of the ladies behind the desk got a hold of me and asked what it was we were doing."

That woman — a nurse — was Jackie Wilbourn, a member of Bethel Baptist Church, a small congregation in Jackson’s Gap situated on Lake Martin and led by Pastor Carl Stokes. "We get in a lot of kids that are crying (at the doctor’s office) and I thought, ‘Man, this sounds good,’ so I started asking questions," Wilbourn said.

But she didn’t stop there.

In fact, Wilbourn was so impressed with the idea behind the ministry that she helped organize a teddy bear drive at Bethel Baptist that resulted in a donation of 800 teddy bears to the ministry.

"We had two clothes hampers, one for the men, the other for the women. Our goal was to see who could collect the most stuffed animals," Wilbourn said.

The losing group had to serve the other group dinner at upcoming fellowship. Wilbourn said there was no doubt as to who would be wearing the aprons when it came time. "I sure enjoyed my husband pouring me tea," she said, laughing. "The women won, but we just got together as a membership. … I don’t think [those in the teddy bear ministry] knew what they were going to do with all those stuffed animals."

French said she was dumbfounded when she came to Bethel to pick up the donation.

"You wouldn’t believe all the bears they brought us," she said. "They did good."

Another teddy bear ministry in the state has 10-year-old Kenneth Collins interested in the opportunities.

As a member of First Baptist Church, Saks, in Anniston in Calhoun Baptist Association, Kenneth helps with this ministry at his church. It is something he said is fun to do and would be comforting to him if he were ever in a car accident.

His sister, Katelyn Collins, 12, agreed that handing out the bears is beneficial to children who have been in scary situations.

"I think it is good for the little kids to get them because if they have a bad wreck or something, it could probably calm them down," Katelyn said.

Kenneth and Katelyn helped their Calhoun Baptist Association church deliver more than 200 bears to local volunteer fire stations, the city fire station and to state troopers in Calhoun County in June, something the officers and firefighters appreciated.

One of the people who received the bears from the church to hand out wrote the church a letter thanking the church for the bears.

Cathy Bain, a member of First, Saks, said the letter writer explained that "they really appreciated it and that it would come in handy to hand out to children in times of crisis."

Katelyn said she plans to continue helping with the teddy bear ministry.

"[The firefighters and police officers] said it helps people by calming them down and comforting them." (Krista Leonard contributed)

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