Volunteering, stitch by stitch

Published: Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sandra Coley’s first encounter with Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) was in 2012 when her son passed away in a motorcycle accident. Now she sews memory bears to give back to Hospice of NGMC families who have experienced similar losses.

After her son passed, she participated in the grief support program offered to hospice family members. When she brought a homemade t-shirt quilt to one of her counseling appointments, it sparked a conversation.

“My counselor, Jenn, noticed my quilting skills and asked if I would be interested in making teddy bears for other hospice families,” said Sandra. “I hadn’t made a teddy bear before, but I found a template and decided to give it a try. I grew up sewing, so I knew I could figure it out. I’ve made hundreds of bears since then.”

Memory bears are made from a loved one’s clothing and sewn into a teddy bear shape — complete with stuffing and button eyes. Two bears are provided to each hospice family at no cost to them.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing with my time if I didn’t have memory bears to make for all these years since losing my son,” said Sandra. “It takes me about eight hours from start to finish to make each bear, so it’s a lengthy process. My children say that I’m too particular with them – but that’s because I want each one to be just right.”

Memory bears can be created from a wide variety of fabrics, like shirts, pants, jackets, hospital gowns or

blankets, and each one is unique. Sandra’s husband, Jack, has supported her volunteering over the years and often helps her stuff the bears before she puts on the finishing touches.

“Each bear I make has its own little personality,” said Sandra. “Some look sweet and dainty and are made with lace and silk — and others look firm and distinguished and are made from a suit jacket. I love to think about the special people whom these bears represent and the memories they bring back.”

When she’s not making bears, Sandra enjoys spending time with her family, including seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She also finds time to knit and sew quilts for her loved ones.

“For me, this isn’t just a hobby; this is my mission,” said Sandra. “I would love for other people to volunteer and start making bears, too. It gives me joy to be able to bless others — and it blesses me just the same.”

For more information about volunteering with Hospice of NGMC, visit www.nghs.com/volunteer-hospice.