By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Church announcements are traditionally good news but, last Sunday at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Bea Rowe shared something extraordinary – the news of the 1,000th stuffed animal she has given away to people in the community who just need a little extra comfort.
Bea came to Cobourg with her husband Bill after he retired from his ministry, opening the Java Man coffee shop downtown. They sold it after a few years – it’s still operating as the Human Bean – and retired again.
Now it’s Bea who has a ministry. She calls it the Barnabas Bear Ministry.
It all began when she was volunteering at the Mission Thrift Store and saw a big lovable stuffed bear had been donated. It had a big rip in one of its seams, but Bea was horrified to hear they were just going to throw the big guy out. She declared she was going to take him home and sew him up.
She named him Barnabas, after the man in the Bible who encouraged other people, and decided these stuffed animals were going to have a mission of their own. She began setting aside stuffed-animal donations and passing these cuddly critters along to where they would do some good.
The Barnabas Bear Ministry began to snowball, as word got around and people began contacting her for a bear on behalf of people they knew who could use this kind of comfort in times of grief, pain or despair. And on the other end of the deal, other Cobourg thrift stores began passing along their own stuffed-animal donations – not to mention people who heard the story and donated stuffed animals to her directly.
Over 15 years, Bea has heard some wonderful stories, like the widow who was having a hard time coping with her loss. She received a bear, placed him on her husband’s side of their king-sized bed, and found it comforted her to see him there.
“When I told this story at our church coffee morning, I warned the men – you can be replaced by a teddy bear,” she recalled.
A friend at Legion Village told her about a man whose wife was dying, and she dispatched a bear immediately. It went straight into his wife’s arms as she lay in her hospital bed.
“Two weeks later, he got that call that said he should get there right away. When he got there, his wife had already passed away, and she was hugging the bear,” Bea related.
“His granddaughter heard about it at the funeral and asked if she could have Grandma’s bear.”
Bea has also set up two big baskets full of stuffed animals at the doors of St. Peter’s Anglican Church for people to take on their own to anyone they know who might need a little encouragement.
She recently saw one picked up at one of their Thursday-night dinners that often serve hot meals to homeless people. The man was from the encampment at Brookside. She couldn’t help asking him what he intended to do with it.
“He said, ‘I’m down at the tents. I am going to hug it and put my blanket over it, and it will help keep me warm,’” she related.
Jan Spragge, who was at the St. Peter’s announcement, had her own story to share with Today’s Northumberland.
“When my mom was going through the really difficult stages of vascular dementia, she had a bear by the name of Binkley,” Spragge said.
“Binkley was well known even at the hospital and, in fact, had a CT scan with mom – giving her the support she needed at that time.”
Spragge has noticed the baskets of bears at church.
“They all have a little tag attached to them, and they are given away for free to people who just need something to hold,” she said.
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that teddy bears are important to all ages,” she added, encouraging everyone who needs “a little bit of furry support” to reach out to Bea’s program.
And to think it all started with a big old bear named Barnabas!
Who – having been rescued by Bea so long ago – now resides in a place of honour on the Rowes’ bed in their apartment at St. Peter’s Court