Through its two foundations, Build-A-Bear Workshop is working with various local charity organizations and donating some of its beloved bears to children in a time of need. During a couple of its giving campaigns, the company donated bears to children who had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator, DiabetesCare.net

As the little girl lays in the bed, a woman with a white coat examines her. Afterwards, the woman speaks to her parents. The little girl’s parents seem unhappy when speaking to the woman. Other adults come in her room, ask how she is feeling and adjust a bag filled with what looks like water that is connected to her arm, which hurts and is purple and yellow. A beeping and blinking screen that reminds her of a tv, but only shows numbers and squiggly lines, sits next to her bed. The room is bright, a bit cold, and smells funny to her.

Prompted by a high blood sugar reading at her pediatrician’s office, this little girl had to make an emergency trip to the hospital. Having to contend with this unsettling environment combined with an eventual diabetes diagnosis can be a devastating time for a family. Along with processing the news and grappling with a variety of emotions, these families are absorbing complicated information and having to learn necessary survival skills to begin to take care of their child’s diabetes.

The little girl may not be able to comprehend the seriousness of her diagnosis, or her newfound responsibilities that come with it, but she is likely intuitive enough to sense the tension coming from her parents and her older siblings. During a frantic time like this, a child may become scared and just wants to be comforted by a friendly face, like a favorite stuffed animal.

As small children, many of us had a special stuffed animal that did everything from acting as a front-seat companion to whatever your imagination could conjure up, to tagging along with you in the car on family trips, to being a bedtime buddy who would snuggle up with you as you were dozing off for the night. There may have been a time when you were inseparable with your stuff animal. 

Aware of the special bond between children and their animals, Build-A-Bear Workshop, a teddy-bear themed retail-entertainment company, has been donating bears to children in special circumstances helping to provide some comfort and joy during an especially difficult time for them. During two recent campaigns, the company provided bears to children who had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

Helping to facilitate this special type of philanthropy is Matt Oldani, manager of Bear Foundations at Build-A-Bear Workshop. Oldani (pictured, lower left) oversees the company’s two corporate foundations: the Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation and the Build-A-Bear Workshop Bear Hugs Foundation. These foundations support a number of areas including children’s health and wellness, animals, the environment, literacy and overall education.  Along with managing the foundations, Oldani is also involved in community relations, creating grants, and working on corporate charitable initiatives.

Oldani spoke with DiabetesCare.net about the company’s programs, and some of the specific work involving bear donations and kids with type 1 diabetes.

DiabetesCare.net: Can you please provide an overview of donation programs at Build-A-Bear Workshop?

Oldani: Build-A-Bear Workshop believes in the teddy bear philosophy of being good people and good bears. Throughout our history, the company has given Guests a voice to support causes that are important to them, including helping children, families, animals and the environment. 

Build-A-Bear Workshop receives and responds to more than 1,000 requests for donations every month. A typical donation is a $10 Cub Cash gift certificate allowing the recipient to go to Build-A-Bear Workshop and make a bear.

Build-A-Bear Workshop also provides financial support for non-profit organizations throughout the country with grants from our corporate foundations. The foundations believe in extending a helping paw to programs in the areas of children’s health and wellness, literacy and education, the preservation of endangered animals and their habitats, domestic animal shelters, disaster relief programs and environmental concerns.

The Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation is funded through $1 pin pad donations taken at registers in the United States and by the sale of purple satin hearts ($1 each) in Canada. It is a public foundation that supports children, families and animals along with associate assistance programs.

The Build-A-Bear Workshop Bear Hugs Foundation is funded through the sale of special animals in our stores.  It is a private foundation that provides grants to children’s health and wellness, literacy and domestic pet programs.
In 2006, the company launched Champ—A Champion Fur Kids—an adorable bear that helps raise funds for children’s health and wellness issues including pediatric cancer, juvenile diabetes and autism. This bear expands on Nikki’s Bear which was originally created in 2003 to help children’s health and wellness causes.

Children’s literacy is a cause the company supports through Read Teddy by donating a portion of the sale to First Book, a national organization that provides new books to children from low-income families, and other literacy organizations around the country.

A portion of the proceeds from Bearemy’s Kennel Pals line of dogs supports domestic pet programs and also provides funding to animals in crisis situations through a quarterly grant process.

Build-A-Bear Workshop is also part of an exciting and innovative partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), offering a series of WWF co-branded plush animals in stores with $1 from the sale of each animal supporting efforts to protect endangered animals and their habitats. Since the partnership began in 2000, Build-A-Bear Workshop has donated over $1 million dollars to WWF. 

Additionally, Build-A-Bear Workshop created the Stuffed with Hugs program eleven years ago to help kids in need around the world by providing teddy bears to children`s causes. Stuffed with Hugs was created to give children the chance to help others. Since Stuffed with Hugs began in 2001, more than 325,000 teddy bears have been made and donated to children in need of a hug. Stuffed with Hugs partners have included adoption agencies, children`s hospitals, firefighters and police officers, the USO, UNICEF, Ronald McDonald House and other worthy organizations.

DiabetesCare.net: How is the company able to identify areas where you want to donate the bears?

Oldani: Build-A-Bear Workshop focuses charitable efforts in the communities in which we operate and to causes that matter most to our Guests and their families. We have identified causes that support children’s health and wellness, animal welfare, literacy, and education to be the most important to our Guests so those are areas where we donate bears.

DiabetesCare.net: Build-A-Bear Workshop was involved in donating bears for the A.I Dupont Center in Delaware for kids who were in the hospital and were diagnosed  with type 1 diabetes. Can you explain how you got involved with this hospital?

Oldani: Build-A-Bear Workshop donated 100 bears to the A.I. Dupont Center in Delaware as part of a celebration when the Build-A-Bear Workshop store opened at Freehold Raceway Mall in New Jersey in 2010.

At Build-A-Bear Workshop, it is tradition when we open a new store to hold a Stuffed with Hugs event and invite the community to make special bears for free to be donated to a local children’s charity.

Build-A-Bear Workshop also worked with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to donate bears to local children in Delaware. JDRF distributed the bears to children who were recently diagnosed with diabetes to help Build-A-Bear Workshop spread the hug of a teddy bear.

DiabetesCare.net: What does it mean to you and Build-A-Bear Workshop to be able to participate in such a program to help kids and their families during an especially difficult time in their lives?

Oldani: We believe in making a difference, one bear hug at a time. When kids are going through a challenging time in their lives, we know that the hug of a teddy bear can provide comfort.

Build-A-Bear Workshop is proud to be a company with heart and provide one of the positive experiences that kids had while at the A.I. Dupont Center in Delaware.

To find out more about Build-A-Bear Workshop, go here