Small comforts

Senior volunteers help bring cheer to kids in Child Protective Services

Jean Neverkovec and her fellow volunteers make toys for kids caught up in the Child Protective Services system.

Jean Neverkovec and her fellow volunteers make toys for kids caught up in the Child Protective Services system.

Photo By SHOKA

The Teddy Bear Ladies are no whiners. “I’d say that every one of us has a disability of some sort,” said leader and founder Jean Neverkovec, 87, who has macular degeneration in her eyes and must be driven to daily errands.

“But when we come in here, it’s all forgotten—no whiners allowed,” she continued. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

The small yet determined group of 25 women started five years ago, as an idea sprung out of a volunteer project already begun in a neighborhood association in which Neverkovec was a member.

“Each year, we would make Christmas stockings for the kids at Loaves & Fishes,” Neverkovec explained, “and in 2005, the supervisor at CPS was also president of our neighborhood association, and asked us if we could instead make teddy bears for the kids at Child Protective Services.

“And I thought, instead of buying teddy bears, we could make them,” she said, explaining that her idea consisted of a very simple pattern that didn’t require every volunteer to know how to use a sewing machine and allowed volunteers to perform a few tasks or many to complete the stuffed animal. “Also, the animal could be crocheted or knit, or made out of fleece … as long as it was soft and cuddly for the kids,” she added.

For the 1,000 to 1,500 children being referred monthly to CPS, receiving a stuffed animal during one of the darkest times in their lives, “means the world,” said Tracy Sanderson, child development specialist supervisor with CPS.

“When children are placed in the ‘comfort rooms’ [at the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento], it’s because they’re waiting for placement, and usually they’ve been brought there by police.” Sanderson said that the Teddy Bear Ladies’ bounty is split between the Receiving Home and the playrooms at the children’s court on Power Inn Road.

The first year Neverkovec and her pals started this project, she got 25 volunteers and they presented 60 stuffed animals to CPS, and, she said, “had so much fun doing it, we haven’t stopped.”

From 2005 to November 2009, they delivered 1,558 stuffed animals (teddy bears, cats, bunnies, dogs, hippos), along with 918 small blankets and afghans, and 182 pairs of shoes, 71 pairs of socks and 69 hats.

“The kids in court are already placements of the county,” Sanderson explained, “and they go in the playroom to wait for their hearings, or talk with social workers or attorneys. It’s wonderful to be able to give the children something they can keep and call their own and take back and forth with them during highly stressful situations.”

The women, whose ages range from 45 to 91, meet once per month for about three hours to work on their crafts, as well as work on projects at home. Each animal costs about $5 to make, and all costs are born by the group (the women assess themselves a $5 per member fee each month for supplies), and whatever small donations they receive from the public.

“When I met the women and took the position, I felt it was my responsibility to help them because they’ve helped the county for so long,” Sanderson said. People can donate gifts of fabric or cash to the Teddy Bear Ladies c/o: Parkway Estates Neighborhood Association, P.O. Box 233332, Sacramento, CA 95823.