L to R: Carole Somers, Dee Peters, Kay Willey, Marie Johnson, Nancy Reeves
On the third Tuesday of the month, one will usually find several members of the Women’s Club of Milton (WCOM) gathered together to keep up a tradition that started many years ago. This is the story of the WCOM women who meet with love in their hearts to sew “Comfort Bears” for delivery to those needing solace throughout Sussex County.
The history of comfort bear making dates back to an initiative that started at the Pioneer Telephone Company. Once the group disbanded, the group making comfort bears ended. Fortunately, Evelyn Hopkins, a member of the comfort bear group at Pioneer, brought the bear pattern to her fellow members at the Women’s Club of Milton. Thus, from early 2000 to today, WCOM members continue getting together to meet, sew, and stuff comfort bears in all sorts of materials.
The colorful material used in bear making is donated from a variety of sources ranging from churches and individuals who have quilting material to spare. Marie Johnson, the host of the comfort bear sewing circle, is the pattern specialist who prepares the material for cutting and sewing. The WCOM has always used the same pattern, although there are many out there, because it is so special to the comfort bear history.
Nancy Reeves, a long-time bear sewing circle member, makes the face on each bear, sews the little glint in their eyes, and a “Made By Women’s Club of Milton” label onto each bear. Nancy explained how the faces have evolved for safety reasons from glued on eyes, etc. to either embroidery stitching or permanent marker.
For more than 20 years while enjoying coffee and chit-chat, members stuff and sew the bears closed while inspecting each one to ensure everything stays put. Although circumstances may have made it difficult for some dedicated long-term members to attend, they are still remembered fondly. The group estimates they have made and donated thousands of bears over the years. Comfort bears have been donated throughout the State of Delaware through organizations such as the A. I. DuPont Children’s Hospital and Delaware Hospice, and to brain trauma victims, Alzheimer patients, and local bereavement groups, to name a few.
Why and how does this group continue the tradition throughout these years? Members clearly demonstrate that it is a labor of love to know each bear may have made a difference in someone’s life.
It is evident when a grieving child, clutching the same bear she received the prior year, returns with it to Dover Air Force Base. And it is seen in a thank you note from a local mother. “I just wanted to write and say thank you for supporting our youth. She [her daughter] came home today with a very special bear. I said, "Oh, it looks like someone made that by hand with love!" Sure enough, there's a tag on the back from the Women's Club of Milton. My grandmother was a quilter. We know just how much love goes into each project. Thank you for such a gift.”
While much may have changed over the years, from members carrying their own personal sewing machines upstairs to the old Milton Library to making face changes for safety reasons, the spirit of comfort each bear brings has not changed at all. The spirit of care each member of the “Comfort Bears Project” brings can be seen through their patience, nimble fingers, and commitment to make a difference in someone’s life.