BEAVERCREEK — Callista Hess knows what it’s like to be a kid in the hospital.
“(My twin brother Tayton) and I were both in the hospital when we were three or four,” the 2020 Beavercreek High School graduate said. “I ended up being fine after a day. I didn’t even stay overnight. (But) he stayed for four days.”
While there, a middle school group donated some stuffed animals and Tayton received a monkey as a comforting gift.
Now the twins and their family members are giving back in the same way. For the 13th straight year, they are coordinating the Bears4Children’s program, during which community members go to the Build-A-Bear store in the Mall at Fairfield Commons and make bears for kids who are at Dayton Children’s during the holidays.
“It was kind of like a pay it forward type of thing we did a few years (after my brother’s hospital visit) when we were in first grade,” Hess said. “We loved going to Build-A-Bear.”
That first year — 2008 — Hess and family donated 12 bears. The following year she invited her class at school to participate.
“It slowly grew,” Hess said.
When she got to sixth grade, Hess started to take over coordinating the program and involved her school’s DARE program, and the entire district, which promoted the project. That resulted in a huge jump from 69 to 178 bears.
“It’s just been growing ever since,” Hess said. “It gets crazy. The store gets packed. It’s exciting to see. We have families that will come in. The parents will have their kids stuff a bear or two. We get more people every year.”
Last year 597 bears were donated, up from 344 in 2018. This year the goal was to have 600 to deliver to the hospital on Dec. 23. They had 481 as of Tuesday morning and were expecting at least 75 more.
It’s normally a one-day event at the store, which draws huge crowds and huge lines. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hess and family adjusted on the fly and began the bear-raising effort on Thanksgiving, asking those interested to go to the store when they can. It was set to conclude Dec. 22.
“We never had it like an open thing where people can just go whenever,” Hess, now a freshman at Wright State University, said. “It’s really hard to guess how many we’re going to end up with.”
Whatever the number, it’s greatly appreciated by the patients and their families.
“People will post pictures of their children in the hospital and they’ll thank us,” Hess said. “That’s the most rewarding part of it all is seeing the kids.”
Hess, however, deflects all the praise and “thank you” posts to those who donate the bears.
“This is not my family,” she said. “This is a community event. We’re just coordinating it and spearheading it. It’s the community coming together.”
It actually extends beyond the Beavercreek community. Hollywood Gaming in north Dayton holds an event to get bears and Human IT and Bella Realty Group are also involved.
In addition to the patients at Dayton Children’s, Hess uses coupons and money back from Build-A-Bear to make more bears and take them to residents of Greenewood Manor in Xenia and Heartland of Beavercreek, both local nursing homes.
For more information, visit https://bears4childrens.weebly.com/.