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Sowing comfort one bear at a time
Garden club donation helps children heal
Jessicas House teddy bear
Jessicas House Executive Director Erin Nelson accepts 25 teddy bears from Turlock Garden Club members Noreen Porath, Peggy Hoyle, Lynda Degraff and Mary Sweet on Wednesday afternoon. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Just two weeks ago, 25 cuddly teddy bears served as stars of the Turlock Garden Club’s blue ribbon-winning display in the Floriculture exhibit at the Stanislaus County Fair, but on Wednesday, the stuffed animals officially retired from the limelight when the club donated them to Jessica’s House, where they will now serve as symbols of comfort for grieving children.

“We thought all of these little bears need a home now that they’re famous,” said TGC member Peggy Hoyle. “So, we took them all home, washed their little faces and brought them here so they can give them to the kids.”

Jessica’s House, located in Turlock, provides support for children, teens, young adults and their families who are mourning the death of a loved one. Whenever a child enters the program, they first attend a family orientation where they are gifted with a small teddy bear. This soft toy serves as a reminder of the comfort Jessica’s House can provide, said Executive Director Erin Nelson.

“Sometimes after orientation the child comes right back and enters into the group, and sometimes it might take a few weeks before they come back,” said Nelson. “So, being able to have a reminder to know that they can feel better is comforting for them.”

TGC member Lynda Degraff saw a post by Jessica’s House on Facebook calling for the donation of teddy bears, and immediately thought of the club’s award-winning display.

The bears were featured in the club’s Floriculture entry, based on the children’s song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” which tells the story of a group of bears having a picnic in the woods. In the display, TGC’s bears could be seen enjoying a meal complete with pie, watermelon and, of course, honey, to coincide with the theme of “Family Tradition.”

Now, the bears have left their family tradition of picnicking to help other families in their time of mourning.

“After someone in your life dies, like a parent or sibling, it’s nice to have something soft to hold and it helps us feel better,” said Nelson.

Jessica’s House welcomes 15 to 20 new children into the program every month, added Nelson, so the need for teddy bears is a constant. The organization is always accepting teddy bear donations, which can be dropped off at Jessica’s House, 741 E. Main St., anytime between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“It really fell into place for us because we knew after the fair that we would have 25 bears and didn’t know what to do with them,” said TGC member Noreen Porath. “It was like a dream come true when we heard that Jessica’s House would like bears.”

“It’s really nice to be able to help out somewhere in the community, and especially for something like this,” said Degraff.

The teddy bear donation was not TGC’s first time helping out Jessica’s House, Nelson pointed out. The club tends to the flower pots that welcome visitors to the organization’s front porch, and helped to plant the organization’s garden in the back.

“The Turlock Garden Club has been amazing, and they keep giving back to us,” said Nelson. “We appreciate them and all that they’ve done to help us help children that are grieving.”