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One bear at a time

Stuffed animals missing limbs help kids

Nonprofits and student service groups join forces to create special teddy bears for children of wounded warriors. Photo credit: Courtesy of Operation Ward 57

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The iconic and much beloved teddy bear has long been a symbol of endearment and love.

Thanks to a terrific partnership of two nonprofits and a student service group, the classic teddy bear is taking on a whole new meaning.

Operation Ward 57, a nonprofit organization that supports wounded, injured and ill servicemembers, veterans and their caregivers, recently announced a special collaborative project that has made custom-designed, "amputee" teddy bears available for children of wounded warriors.

Bears are provided at no cost to eligible families and are being shipped all across the Nation.

Eligible families include post 9/11 active duty servicemembers or veterans who suffered the loss of a limb in combat or as a result of injuries sustained while deployed.

For Operation Ward 57 Executive Director Brittney Hamilton, this project is the culmination of a long-time dream to help military families in a unique way.

"Through Operation Ward 57, I meet countless families impacted both physically and mentally as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan," says Hamilton. "Too often we see the young children of these servicemembers struggling to understand what is going on, or why Mommy or Daddy might look different. I wanted to give them something to help them, as well as provide an opportunity for these children to use the bears as an educational tool to help explain to others why their mommy or daddy might look different."

Hamilton learned that there used to be a bear called Amputeddy that was available for children who were going to be experiencing amputation. Sadly, Hamilton learned that the creator of the bear passed away and production had ceased. Determined, Hamilton continued to search for the next couple of years for another option. When nothing materialized, Hamilton and her volunteer team decided to see if they could get something made themselves.

Enter the magic of social media.

Hamilton found an article on her Facebook newsfeed featuring a woman named Lia Freeman, the founder of the Freeman Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of education to promote promise, prosperity and peace worldwide. The organization, founded after the death of her son, Marine Capt. Matthew Freeman, had a special project called the Matthew Bears. The bears, created in honor of her fallen son, were made from the uniforms of fallen servicemembers and given to their loved ones.

Hamilton and her team reached out to Freeman for information and guidance; not only did the organization get that assistance, Freeman and her organization wanted to get involved in the project, as well. Freeman connected Hamilton with a student sewing and active community service club called Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) at St. James High School in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. The FCCLA students were delighted to take on the project and donate their time to craft the bears.  

"We really were blessed by the timing of all of this and everyone involved," says Hamilton. "I really feel this was meant to be."

The way the bears are crafted reflects this care and dedication of all involved.

"The bears are custom-made for each wounded warrior family," explains Hamilton. "A uniform matching the branch they served in or a donated uniform from the family is used. We customize the bear to have the same amputations as the wounded warrior. Each bear also gets a name tape personalized to say whatever the family would like."

The team can also accommodate special requests or additional customizations.

"We had one family ask for their bear to not have eyes, because in addition to multiple amputations, the wounded warrior is also blind.

"We really try to do our best to customize the bears as closely as we can for each family," Hamilton added.

Feedback from the families who have received a bear has been highly positive and greatly appreciated.

To request a bear, visit Operation Ward 57 online at

Again, bears are available free of charge for eligible families.

Additionally, Operation Ward 57 is accepting donations from the public to help cover the expenses of producing the bears and bear shipment costs. For those who wish to donate to the project, visit All donations are tax-deductible.

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