HAVERHILL — They chat about family, share recipes, and joke and laugh while crafting cuddly teddy bears destined for children in times of distress.
They call it their “Hug a Bear” program. Each soft and squishy bear they make is filled with love and warm wishes.
Every Thursday morning, about a dozen retired women gather in a basement workshop of the Citizens Center. There, for two hours they stuff and stitch and embroider cuddly teddy bears that are delivered to various agencies for distribution to children. The bears are intended to provide a bit of comfort in times of crisis.
“It soothes them,” said Patricia Leavitt, a member of the group. “It’s something to hold onto.”
These women find stimulation, therapy and camaraderie every time they gather around large work tables to piece their diminutive nine-inch-tall bears together. They produce about 35 of the bears each week, on average.
Each woman has a specific task.
Lillian Brenick works mostly out of her apartment at Merrivista, a senior citizens housing complex on Water Street. She uses different colors and patterns of fabric. She cuts out the front and back pieces of each bear, and then leaves the material at the door of her Merrivista neighbor, Annette Konieczny, who brings them to the Citizens Center workshop for the next steps in the process.
Cecile Lessard and Lucille Rafferty bring home the pieces and stitch them together. They leave each bear open at the bottom in preparation for stuffing them with soft batting.
“If the material is wrinkled, I’ll iron it first,” said Lessard, who spent 47 years working at a dry cleaners.
She said the teddy bear project gives her something positive to do each week.
“The other day, I spent eight hours ironing the material and loved every minute of it,” she said. “I can’t sit at home all day and watch TV.”