BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) The Belleville Police Department has 33 teddy bears to give to scared children because a little girl was inspired by a book found at a yard sale.
“Especially kids that have lost something special or someone special, they need a bear,” says Noa Grace Welborn, 7, of Belleville.
So she pestered her parents into helping. Dad Travis set up a GoFundMe page so she could make Build-A-Bears for other children.
“She wanted to do it for a billion; we set it at a thousand dollars,” said Travis, who set up the page called “Bears because I care” on Jan. 27. It raised $550, mostly in donations from friends and family, by early March.
Her mom, Kate Welborn, said she has “about a million” books from a series called “Value Tales” by Ann Donegan Johnson, and the one that inspired the bear drive was the story of Elizabeth Fry, who worked to reform women’s prisons in the early 1800s.
On March 15, the founder of Build-A-Bear, Maxine Clark, matched the donations with $550 of her own. Clark thanks Noa Grace on the page “for all the hugs you have created.”
After reaching the initial goal, the Welborns increased the goal to $10,000. They’ll be contacting other area police departments for the next batch of bears.
That first $550 allowed Noa Grace to head to the Build-A-Bear Workshop store in Fairview Heights and start stuffing. Those bears are now at the Belleville Police Department, says Master Sergeant Chris Mattingly, and are spread between investigations and the main desk.
The bears arrived with Noa Grace on March 9; none have found new homes yet.
“She was quite the impressive young lady,” Mattingly said of Noa Grace.
He said the police have given out stuffed animals to children before, but it has been about 10 years. He remembers that past children were “very grateful” for the stuffed animals. He remembers one child, younger than 10 years old, who was “scared and cold and grabbed the bear. Kind of swallowed up under the blanket.”
It’s kids like that who Noa Grace wants to comfort.
“They’re going to think they’re really blessed,” she said of the children who will get the bears. “And they’ll be upset they didn’t get them sooner.”
“I put a wish on the hearts,” the second grader said, and kissed each red heart before it was placed into the bear with just the right amount of stuffing. She named each bear as well, adding their names to the birth certificates the bears have in their boxes. Matilda, Lucy, Riley, Carson, Henry, Leonardo and Patrick are among the names she’s picked.
“She’s keeping the list, so she never repeats a name,” said her mom, Kate Welborn.
The 33 bears that went to Belleville Police are blonde and brown, “because they costed (sic) less money, the people said,” Noa Grace says. Her own bears, Sassy and Serina, are purple and blonde.
“So many cuddlies!” Noa Grace exclaimed happily.
The Welborn family does have another bear at home, ready to go to Texas.
“I’m going to give it to my cousin. Her brother just died,” she said. “I named it after Levi.”
Her mom said Levi “was a little fighter” and died at 2 years old.
Kate Welborn said Noa Grace came up with the idea about a year ago, all on her own.
“Of course she’s brought up at church, and at school they’re always talking about things” to do for others, she said, but the family had not previously done such charitable acts.
Travis said they tried to persuade Noa Grace to go to Walmart for the bears, in order to get more. “She wasn’t having it,” he said.
“She knows what kids like,” Kate said.
Noa Grace says she hadn’t told many of her friends at school, St. Teresa Catholic School in Belleville, but “nobody in my school really believes me.”
“Don’t worry about what people say you can’t do,” Travis said.
Noa Grace has a sister, Ari, 5, and a brother, Ryder, 2. She says her sister wants to donate dolls to the fire department but is too shy to say so herself.
“So you’re a positive influence on your sister,” Kate said. “In one way.”
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