EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – It can be tough being sick as a child. Andrea Pugliese believes a cuddly bear can make things easier.
She and her husband hope to again collect hundreds of bears to be donated to children in hospitals and other difficult situations. Last year, they collected more than 400 stuffed bears, which they distributed to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to locations of the Ronald McDonald House, and to other organizations.
She founded the Built with Love toy drive with her husband, Dominic, six years ago. It began with 10 bears they bought at the mall to donate. She said she was deeply moved by the reaction from the children at CHOP, and the next year, she sought help from neighbors, relatives and friends.
In December, she plans to deliver the bears to CHOP and the Ronald McDonald House, as well as St. Christopher’s Hospital, the Women’s Center of Atlantic County, the Gift of Life House and the Division of Youth and Family Services.
The project began with a boy in Mays Landing that had been diagnosed with leukemia, she said. The boy’s mother had asked for toys to be donated to him for Christmas, and Pugliese found the chance to reach out to a child deeply moving.
“I said 'You know what? We’re doing this even more,’” she said.
Most of the bears came from the Build-A-Bear Workshop, she said. At the retail toy store, bears and other stuffed animals can be customized, and there are many accessories available. Last year, Pugliese said, she received a donation from the original CEO of Build-A-Bear, Maxine Clark.
She said she accepts other plush toys, saying that the most important thing is that it be a new toy, because many are going to hospitals or to children who may have compromised immune systems.
But the workshop in Mays Landing, the one closest to many of her donors, has closed down. Now, the nearest workshops are in Toms River, Woodbury or Cherry Hill. Pugliese hopes that will not hurt the amount of bears collected this year.
“This year has been a little slower,” she said. “A lot of people like getting the bear.”
In an interview just after Thanksgiving, she said she’s collected about 100 so far, and ordered 40 more that day. She plans to distribute the bears the week before Christmas, and will continue to accept donations of toys and cash until Dec. 16 and 17.
Pugliese and her family live in Egg Harbor Township. The couple have three boys, Tyler, 12, Blake, 4, and the youngest, Noah, 2.
She grew up in Galloway, while Dominic Pugliese is originally from Brigantine.
Pugliese said those who donate can have their names included on a card to be included when the toys get distributed. She said the children and families are often deeply moved, and very appreciative.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “We meet a lot of the kids and the families.”
The group has a Facebook page, and can be found by searching @builtwithlovecharity. Those interested can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.