For some children, being in the hospital can be one of the most challenging times of their lives. Noel Schoessow certainly knows, after having surgery as a small child. Now, he donates Build-A-Bear toys to all children in hospitals that he can!
It All Started With Fido
When Noel Schoessow was in 4th grade, his life changed forever. After a terrible accident where a friend’s sibling threw a sharp object into his face, Schoessow needed surgery and spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital. As you might expect, it was far from a fun experience. “I remember those days, and I remember the loneliness,” he remembered.
To keep young Schoessow company during the lonely nights, his family brought him a stuffed animal named Fido. All these years later, his old toy remained in the 51-year-old’s mind. Through it all, Schoessow knew that he would one day bring the same happiness that Fido brought to him to other children.
Finally, in 2011, his dream came true! That’s when Schoessow launched the “Bear Hug Project”. The project’s goal is a simple one: send a volunteer-made Build-A-Bear to a child in need. And 2020 turned into their biggest year yet…
One of the Biggest Years Yet
In 2020, the Bear Hug Project enjoyed their biggest year to date. Incredibly, this year alone, the non-profit send over 500 Build-A-Bears to hospitals across the United States, including Ascension St. Joseph, Ascension Elmbrook, Ascension Wauwatosa; Reiman Cancer Center – Ascension St. Francis and Prohealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital. “Knowing that there are many who will benefit from receiving a bear will put a smile on my face that lasts for months,” said Schoessow.
This year, the Bear Hug Project also focused on infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. Michael McCormick, one of Schoessow’s volunteers, had his son Owen transferred to NICU at 26 weeks. “He died after 10 days,” said Schoessow. “I feel like I need to do this not only for the kids but for the parents (who have children in the NICU) as well…I cannot picture what these parents are going through.” As you might expect, the bears often mean just as much to the parents as they do to the children.
Helping A Fantastic Cause
Incredibly, since starting in 2011, the Bear Hug Project bought and donated more than 3,000 bears to children in need. Most of the bears are gifted around the holidays, when kids and parents can feel particularly down. “It is important for kids in the hospital to get a bear for Christmas,” said Laken Schoessow, Noel Schoessow’s daughter. “It is important to see kids in the hospital smile.”
Yes, it’s quite a family affair! Laken, despite still attending high school as a senior, actually sits on the non-profit’s board of directors!
Would you like to help the Bear Hug Project? Well, you can! Every little bit helps make children in hospitals feel happier, safer, and more hopeful. The best part of all? Anyone can donate money to the project at thebearhugproject.org/donate or through PayPal.