Teddy Bear Run

A hospital can be a frightening place for a young child but a furry friend to cuddle can sure help to ease those fears.

For 20 years, the Volunteer Services Department at Marietta Memorial Hospital has partnered with the local chapter of the Honda Gold Wing Road Riders to help provide Teddy Bears for children who have to be in the hospital for any reason.

“When we started out, the bears were for any child under 12 who was being admitted. But we’ve kind of broken the rules over the years,” said Anna Vukovic, director of Volunteer Services. “Now the bears are given to anyone who could benefit … a child getting a shot who is afraid … we’ve even given bears to geriatric patients who might have dementia. Just anywhere it will help.”

Around 1,000 bears are handed out each year and the annual Teddy Bear Run helps to make the program possible.

The bears are sometimes used to explain procedures or just to make the child feel more comfortable, said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System.

“We appreciate the volunteers providing these (because) we know that a trip to the hospital or Emergency Room can be scary for a child … sometimes children come into the hospital without a favorite toy or blanket. Giving them something soft and cuddly to hold can help decrease anxiety,” she said. “They can even be used to show the child what they are going to do in advance – for example, placing a Band-Aid on the bear first.”

In years past, 70 to 75 riders – around 40 bikes – have shown up to participate in this fundraising effort, each with a fuzzy buddy sitting perched on their bikes. While the bears will no doubt enjoy the ride again this 20th year for the event, organizers are trying a new approach.

“We are asking something different this year and that is for each rider to make a monetary donation,” said Vukovic, explaining that gifts of money allow more bears to be purchased as donated bears are not given directly to patients but rather are auctioned off to raise money for hypo-allergenic ones.

The general public is also invited to make donations to the Teddy Bear Fund at this event and any time throughout the year through the Memorial Health Foundation.

“It all goes to a good cause and I know because I get the see the smile on the kids’ faces,” said Vukovic.

Dee and John Ayers of Lowell are the directors of the local Gold Wing Riders Association and the couple will be riding their 2002 Gold Wing trike.

“We usually get a good cross-section of bikes,” said Dee Ayers. “Harleys, sportsters, a little bit of everything.”

There are also riders from sister chapters and all over the area, including Lancaster, Logan, Parkersburg and Pataskala. The ride will go on rain or shine.

The route will begin at Hometown Honda and take Interstate 77 north, where the riders will then take exit 6 and Ohio 821 north.

“We always try to do scenic routes and this will take us to Germantown, Dalzell and come back through Stanleyville and Glendale Road,” Ayers said, adding that the cause is the reason so many riders come back year after year.

“Anytime there is a need and we are able to help, it’s a win-win.”