Teddy bears for homeless youth
Bemis working with Mission of Hope
By Scott Bellile
For a child growing up without a permanent home, drifting place to place can be highly stressful, if not traumatic.
Employees of Bemis Corporation put their sewing needles to work to give comfort to children who will soon set foot into New London’s future homeless shelter.
Volunteers spent their lunch break Friday, Oct. 21 sewing and stuffing teddy bears as part of the second annual Bemis Week of Caring.
Approximately 25 furry companions will be given to kids who settle into the Mission of Hope House, which shelter co-founder Lori Prahl said will hopefully open on Shawano Street next year.
Prahl told the employees the projects they sewed may just look like teddy bears to them, but “know what you’re sewing and stuffing, it really is life-changing to someone receiving it. It might be a small gesture, but to the recipient it means much more.”
Prahl said last year eight or nine children lived in motels in New London.
For those who don’t stay in motels or with people they know, they probably relocate to shelters in the Fox Valley or Stevens Point, Prahl said, as Waupaca County doesn’t have one.
This means homeless kids either leave the school district they’ve come to know to move with their families, or they live separate from their parents with someone else just to remain in their district.
Kim Wetzel, director for the Bemis Company Foundation, said living away from parents on top of being homeless can add up to a traumatic experience for youth. So the bears will provide “warm and cuddly and comforting” consolation to those who need it.
The Bemis Company Foundation and the Bemis Women’s Network organized the teddy bear project after learning about the future Mission of Hope House, Wetzel said. The organizations had already planned for employees to sew teddy bears that double as heating pads for Affinity Hospice, so they tacked on some non-heating pad bears to sew for the homeless kids.
Bemis also did projects to help the Harbor House, Feeding America, the American Cancer Society and a local humane society during the Bemis Week of Caring.
With sewing needle in hand, Ryan Hernke, a continuous improvement manager for Bemis in New London, said he enjoys volunteering. But with four kids at home, it’s hard to squeeze in time. Fitting volunteerism into the workday was a bonus to help the Mission of Hope House, he said.
Another Bemis employee, Lisa Lathrop, said sewing doesn’t come easy to her, but that was outweighed by her desire to support the community so she helped, too.
When the shelter opens, it will house up to 21 people. Families will be given first priority. The shelter will also provide education opportunities to its residents, such as cooking and finance classes, Prahl said.
What the public doesn’t understand, Prahl said, is people often wind up homeless either because they’re exiting the foster care system or they’re recovering from a medical problem. In most cases they don’t have family to turn to for help.
“Many people don’t understand that this issue does exist,” Prahl said of homelessness.
But plenty of community members have realized the problem and are already donating labor and supplies before the building is even open.
Tom Prahl, Lori’s husband, said helpers recently poured concrete outside the Mission of Hope House and are in the process of putting in insulation. They’ll soon begin putting in drywall, a project that still needs volunteers.
The Mission of Hope House received another boost from the community Saturday, Oct. 22, at a quarter raffle fundraiser held at the VFW. Lori Prahl said 92 people came out to play games and raised about $3,000 for the shelter’s insulation.