University of New England student Stephanie Devine arranges some large teddy bears in a pick up truck on Friday morning. The big bears, which are among 3,268 stuffed animals received as a result of the annual UNE Teddy Bear Toss, are destined for the Biddeford Saco OOB Transit system, where they’re a big hit on the summer trolleys. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — A visit to a hospital emergency room can be a difficult experience for a small child. There are new noises and bright lights and strangers, and you’re sick. But then someone tucks a cuddly stuffed toy in your arms, and things seem a bit better.

“It changes their whole experience,” said Kimberly Jagger LaChance of Southern Maine Health Care.

Lynn Brandsma of the University of New England and Barbara Wentworth of United Way York County hold teddy bears received as part of the annual Teddy Bear Toss effort.The bears are distributed to about 14 area agencies. Tammy Wells Photo

Stuffed bears, big ones and small ones, stuffed sea creatures, bunnies, and a number of other soft cuddly creatures adorned the Harold Alford Forum at the University of New England on Friday morning. That was the day the stuffed animals — all 3,268 of them — were presented, figuratively, to the United Way of York County, and then were distributed, literally, to about 14 agencies that find a soft toy can bring comfort to the young and not-so-young.

Most of the bears came from the annual Teddy Bear Toss, when people donate stuffed animals at UNE’s Biddeford and Portland campuses and in other locations. The stuffed animals were gathered up and “tossed” out onto the ice at the Nor’easter women’s and men’s hockey games at the Harold Alfond Forum on Jan. 31.

Some of the bears came from a recent memorial to the late Kobe Bryant, who graduated from Lower Merion (Pennsylvania) High School — the same high school from which the children of UNE President James Herbert and his wife Lynn Brandsma, a psychology professor at UNE, graduated. The couple’s children weren’t there at the same time as Bryant, but Brandsma knew the school and its personnel well. She inquired about the stuffed toys and explained their destination if the school were to donate some.

“They said they thought that was what Kobe would have wanted,” and sent a box of stuffed toys, Brandsma said.


United Way of York County President Barbara Wentworth said receiving the stuffed animals from locations in Biddeford and Portland and from Lower Merion High School and passing them on, was “like tossing a stone into a pond, that (sends) ripples out.”

Students, organizers, agencies receiving stuffed toys and representatives from the University of New England and United Way York County posed for a photo at the Harold Alfond Forum Friday morning where 3,268 stuffed animals gathered as a result of the annual Teddy Bear Toss were distributed to about 14 agencies.

Terry Babbidge, of Biddeford Saco Old Orchard Beach Transit, which operates summer trolleys as well as providing year round bus service, told of the role of a very big stuffed bear seated on one of the trolleys.

Until he saw the enormous teddy bear in the back of a trolley, looking out, a young boy with autism was reluctant to get aboard with his family, and was very upset, Babbidge said. But the big bear in the back made all the difference.

“He made a beeline for the bear,” Babbidge recalled.

When it is Teddy Bear Toss time, she said, the agency always asks for the largest bears, so they can be seated on the trolleys to ease an anxious child. Ted E. Bear and his bear friends are so popular he even has his own Facebook page at: Ted E Bear OOB Trolley, she said.

Teddy bears and other stuffed animals make a difference in a lot of places, like Hospice of Southern Maine, where those at their end of their lives, or those visiting loved ones at the end of their lives, are comforted, said hospice spokeswoman Heather Francis.

When you’re feeling blue, sometimes hugging a cuddly stuffed animals can make a difference. These creatures and many others will be distributed to area agencies as a result of the annual Teddy Bear Toss held at the University of New England in Biddeford. Tammy Wells Photo

Michael Ouellette, who coordinates the York County Shelter Program’s Food Pantry, said the stuffed toys make youngsters accompanying their family members to the pantry for the first time a bit less anxious.

“Their feeling of being scared seems to go away,” he said.

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