By Amy Wenk
Four young girls brought smiles to the faces of nearly 250 patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite in Sandy Springs on July 16.
Through their own nonprofit organization, Bears 4 Hope, the girls — Madelyn Mize and Sarah, Audrey and Anna Buttermore — donated 250 stuffed animals from the Build-A-Bear Workshop to comfort the sick children.
“This is a really special donation because four little girls themselves have actually started this organization and have really coordinated this whole event,” said Chelsea Blevins, Children’s volunteer coordinator. “This is one of the largest donation events we have had in a while where the patients get to come down and actually walk away with something. They get to pick their own bear, which I know makes them feel really special.”
Children of all ages — some in wheelchairs, others toting IVs — lined the hallways to pick out their Build-A-Bear animals. Choices ranged from the classic teddy bear to turtles and elephants. Each child was greeted by the Build-A-Bear mascot, Bearemy, and the mothers of the four founders of Bears 4 Hope.
The patients left delighted, tightly grasping their new special friends.
“Since we are a nonprofit hospital, we don’t necessarily have the means to go out and buy toys for the kids as much as we wish we could,” Blevins said. “It is really important and necessary that we get donations from the community so that we can really spoil our patients because they are in here and they may be hurting. This really helps to cheer them up.”
The four girls, who range in age from 8 to 12, began Bears 4 Hope (www.bears4hope.com) after seeing a TV commercial for Children’s Healthcare.
“We were thinking about how it would feel to be in that situation, and we knew that they probably wanted something to comfort them 24/7,” said Madelyn, 12, a Bartow County resident.
“And our bears comfort us,” said Anna, 12, who lives in McDonough.
The girls brainstormed ways to earn money to purchase bears. That same day, each of them earned $20 for stuffing envelopes for Madelyn’s father’s business. Each girl bought a stuffed animal for a patient at Children’s Healthcare at Egleston.
“That night we actually set up our very first Web site and our business cards,” Madelyn said.
The organization took off when the girls hosted a fundraiser June 21 at The Melting Pot in Kennesaw, a favorite dining spot of the Mize family. With the help of a friend, manager Valerie Mendel, the girls raised more than $5,200.
“It means a lot to me,” said Mendel, who battled cancer as a child. “I went to Build-A-Bear to actually help them stuff the bears. It was moving. They prayed on every bear. They held the hearts in their hands and said a prayer for the health of all the recipients.”
The girls said they chose Build-A-Bear because of the special attention that goes into the toys.
“You stuff them with love, and you put the hearts in yourself,” Madelyn said. “You give them secrets, strength and friendship.”
Sarah, 8, added: “You rub on their legs so they can run. You rub on their cheeks so they can be cute. You rub on their heads so they can be smart and a whole bunch of other stuff.”
The girls will soon hold two additional fundraisers: one in McDonough on Aug. 3 and another at The Melting Pot in Kennesaw in August or September.
“Now that we are starting to get big, we are making bigger goals,” Madelyn said. “The next fundraiser at The Melting Pot will be for St. Jude [Children’s Research Hospital]. We will be making a traveling trip to Memphis to give bears out.”
That trip will include employees of The Melting Pot, which raises money for St. Jude and will hold a separate fundraising event.