Sandy McCaffree has about 3,000 stuffed animals sitting in a storage unit. Eventually they’ll make their way into the hands of area children, but they need some company first.
McCaffree runs Blankets and Bears, a nonprofit that distributes the warm and fuzzies to area children.
“We’re really going to need a lot of blankets,” she said.
She plans to give bundles — a pillow and pillowcase, a fleece blanket and stuffed toy — to 750 kids this year. She and three friends and family members sew the blankets and coordinate the bundles.
Rooms in the basement of her Heights home were stacked with fabrics, some bearing images like ladybugs or tractors.
“It’s kind of like a shipping center basically,” McCaffree said.
The program has grown from when it started as a project for employees in the dentist’s office where she worked ten years ago, when they gave blankets and bears to seven kids at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.
“We didn’t know if they were boys or girls or five or 15 (years old),” she said. “(But) who couldn’t use something warm to cuddle up to?”
The program expanded from there, and about five years ago, McCaffree partnered with a Billings motorcycle club to help support and raise money for the project.
“Now we have a name out there that has become well-known,” she said.
That’s brought in donations from stores, like hundreds of stuffed toys based on movie characters.
A donation box for blankets sits at First Interstate Bank's Heights location, and the group is involved in several fundraisers throughout the year, including a Blankets and Bears Ball in October.
One fundraising favorite is a custom bundle that people can enter a raffle for. At a movie premiere, four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed bundles fetched $1,400. Overall, McCaffree hopes to raise $30,000 this year.
Each bundle that is distributed to kids, through a partnership with the Head Start program, is unique. The stuffed toy for the first bundle created for the year becomes the year’s mascot.
This year, it’s a large white teddy bear named Lucy sporting a pink tutu.
“It’s really fun to see her traveling on a motorcycle,” McCaffree said.
Bundles are distributed just before school breaks in December. Once the warm-and-fuzzy has been delivered, the process starts all over again for next year.
But McCaffree will never forget the program’s first year.
A worker at the ranch told her, “I can’t tell you how much the kids loved their blankets and bears,” McCaffree said. “That’s what sticks with me.”
For more information, call 696-4308 or visit www.blanketsandbears4kids.com.