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Teddy bears dress up for the holiday season Volunteers outfit toys in appealing costumes as gifts to children


When Brenda Minatee was looking to make a contribution to charity last year, she wanted to donate her time, not her money.

She didn't have to look very far.

Ms. Minatee joined the hundreds of volunteers who help the Salvation Army of Annapolis dress 1,000 teddy bears in homemade costumes for local children.

"The bears caught my attention," recalled the 38-year-old county payroll employee, who persuaded 100 of her colleagues to outfit 168 bears last year. "I never heard of that before."

This year, the nonprofit organization is looking for about 400 more volunteers like Ms. Minatee to outfit the stuffed animals before Christmas. Once dressed, the 12-inch bears -- black, brown and white -- will be given to children whose parents cannot afford gifts.

Capt. Walter E. Strong Jr., commanding officer of the Salvation Army's Annapolis branch, said about 500 families have applied for Christmas assistance this year, up from the 400 families that applied last year.

Captain Strong said he expects all 500 families will receive the teddy bears, which cost the organization about $3,000.

Any leftovers will be donated to area hospitals and police departments, he said.

Captain Strong said the organization chose bears because of their universal appeal.

"More kids today seem to want teddy bears more than dolls," Captain Strong said. "Teddy bears are more unisex. Both boys and girls hug them."

The appeal of the bears may cross gender lines, but sewing costumes that attract boys is sometimes difficult.

"One of the hardest things to do is to appeal to boys," said Dorothy Waugh of the Kappa Alpha Theta Annapolis-Severna Park Alumna Club. "It's easier to make skirts than pants."

The 70-year-old Millersville resident and the other 24 members of the club have been dressing bears for four years, making, among other costumes, a matador's outfit and an Orioles uniform. This year, they will outfit 30 stuffed animals.

The 250-member Annapolis Quilting Guild has participated since the program started eight years ago, said Melinda Connell, a member of the guild.

The 45-year-old Annapolis resident said the costumes are relatively easy to make, taking a few days to hand-stitch. The most popular outfits are white bridal gowns, and cowboy hats, vest and boots, Ms. Connell said.

But sometimes the guild members are too good with their knitting needles, Ms. Connell said.

"Some of us have a hard time giving the teddy bears up because we put a lot of imagination and work into it," she said. "Sometimes, they're so cute, it's hard to give them away."

The guild is hoping to dress 100 bears this year.

And Ms. Minatee, who hopes her co-workers will dress 200 bears, said the program helped more than just the children who will get the stuffed animals.

"You'd be surprised by how much togetherness those bears brought to the office," Ms. Minatee said. "The sharing of ideas, the sharing of costumes -- it was almost better for us than the children.

For information about the program, call Carolyn Burge of the Salvation Army at (410) 263-4091.

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