Stuffed bears made from a small congregation in Valliant, Oklahoma, are helping children all over the world.
The Joy Bear Ministry began Nov. 17, 2014, when former First United Methodist Church Pastor Rev. Lois Bartley had an idea for charity.
“Some of the ladies at the church who were retired wanted to give back,” said Bartley. “I thought, ‘Why not make bears?’ We made our own pattern and named them after Joy, a lady who was significant in our congregation.”
The ministry’s goal was “to spread Christ’s joy, one bear at a time.” Their first handmade bears were donated to Valliant’s local police and fire departments to be given to rescued children who needed comfort.
“We began inviting ladies from other churches, and that’s when things really grew,” said Bartley. “Every week, we have up to 15 people at a time making 50 to 100 bears per month.”
Over the past five years, nearly 6,000 bears have been donated to children’s hospitals, doctors' offices and other locations across the U.S.
“The bears have even made their way to Africa and Haiti,” said Bartley. “I think the reason why this has grown so much is because it’s more than just making bears. It’s an opportunity for fellowship.”
Bears have also made their way to Tahlequah, thanks to Shelley Bailey, whose grandmother is part of the congregation in Valliant.
“I’ve been a teacher for the past 10 to 12 years,” said Bailey. “Kids are always on my mind. When I recently began working for an attorney, I saw how many children were put through the system and thought they could use the comfort.”
Her boss, Tahlequah attorney Jim Cosby, donated materials to the Joy Bear Ministry to have the plush animals made and sent to Tahlequah.
“The ministry is able to make bears because of donations,” said Bailey. “I’m taking them to the courthouse, fire department and police station. They’ve definitely been comforting kids in other communities, so I wanted to bring them here.”