YOUNGSTOWN - In 2006, when her husband was in the hospital seriously ill, Dolores Lilko's grandchildren gave them a Buddy Bear.
"I would sit on the couch and would hold the bear,'' she said. ''I took it home and I would sit on the couch and hug and squeeze it. It felt so therapeutic that I thought, I would like to have every senior in the nursing home have a teddy bear."
Shortly after her husband died that year, Lilko started a teddy bear collection.
Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland
An effort was held in the past two months at Omni Manor Nursing Home in Youngstown to collect teddy bears to give to residents of area nursing homes. More than 800 were received. The drive was started by Dolores Lilko, a former rehabilitation resident when she was a patient there this fall. From left are residents Evelyn Hagan, 85, Glorya Thon, 84, Marge Jenkins, 85, and Ruth Buckley, 94, who have assisted with the effort. The bears will be given out in December.
This fall when Lilko was a patient receiving rehabilitation at Windsor House at Omni Manor Health Care Center in Youngstown, she told activity director Julie Vilano of the idea of getting teddy bears for local nursing home residents for Christmas.
The two women put together a campaign publicizing their program, "Bears for Hugs,'' to have new and slightly used teddy bears dropped off at a large box at the nursing homes in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
Little did the two women know that within two months, they would have more than 800 teddy bears and some other stuffed animals to be given out.
Vilano said the bears will be cleaned up. Many bears of various sizes and colors sit on the book shelf in the activity room while others are bagged for delivery in December.
"We want to take them to residents in nursing homes and to people in the community,'' Vilano said.
"I hope the teddy bears will provide a little tender love to anyone in need,'' said Lilko, also known as ''Grandma Dee Dee.''
''Seniors will love the teddy bears. They are so therapeutic and comforting." And, she said, they helped her with her arthritis.
She said she personally sends her hugs and blessings with each bear.
Vilano said she was touched by Lilko's story. She noted how she was able to collect bears in 2006, and then do it again this year.
"She enjoys doing this and was able to do something again to help others. This gave her something to focus her mind on while she was here in the rehab unit,'' she said.
Several schools in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, including Maplewood High School, Cardinal Mooney High School and Boardman Middle School, helped her collect teddy bears and deliver them to nursing homes as a community service project.
Vilano said when Lilko came to Omni Manor, she was looking at the situation from the eyes of a patient and enjoyed having a bear herself.
In October, Lilko, formerly of Youngstown, left the rehab center and moved with family to New Philadelphia, but she and Vilano has kept in contact.
The residents at Omni Manor are also excited about the project.
"There are four residents here who help us with the projects all the time. They wanted to help give the bears to the residents here in December at the holidays,'' Vilano said.
She said an outing to area nursing homes with Lilko and some residents will be held in December.
''They are very excited. We will put Santa hats and bows on them and take them to residents," she said.
Lilko said she will return to the nursing home to help with the delivering of the bears.
Lilko said she takes pride in making sure each bear is ready with a bow to bring cheer to residents of the nursing homes.
''The community has been so generous to make all this possible,'' Lilko said.
Resident Glorya Thon, 84, said she thought it was a wonderful idea to get the teddy bears to the residents. She said remembers when her daughter had a collection of teddy bears.
Thon said a couple years ago she was given a teddy bear, which she keeps in her room at the nursing home.
Resident Evelyn Hagan, 85, echoed Thon's sentiments of the project and said she also remembers family members having teddy bear collections.
"I wanted to do the project again just like I did in 2006 and am so grateful for all the help and support," Lilko said
In recent years, Lilko shares her story of the collection in schools and to retired teacher associations.
''I want to do something for others to provide comfort just like someone did it for me,'' she said.