2011-12-07 / Community

Warm cuddly friends add cool comfort for ailing children

Teddy bear technology keeps up with hospital’s therapeutic needs
BY MILLIE STEWART Special to The Times Record

LIAM STEWART, 6, son of Derek and Suzann Stewart of Brunswick, shows off the front and back of “The Cool Teddy” made by Grampa’s Garden. 
MILLIE STEWART PHOTO LIAM STEWART, 6, son of Derek and Suzann Stewart of Brunswick, shows off the front and back of “The Cool Teddy” made by Grampa’s Garden. MILLIE STEWART PHOTO BRUNSWICK

The Teddy Bear Club at Mid Coast Hospital, a project of the Mid Coast Hospital Auxiliary, provides about 200 stuffed animals a month to children who come to the hospital for both outpatient and inpatient services.

These different surroundings can be a bit startling to a 2-year old, but the gift of a stuffed animal along the way can put him on the right track.

For several months, children have been receiving new Teddy bears, especially designed for Mid Coast Hospital, that are much more than stuffed animals.

Placed in the freezer for an hour or so, this Teddy becomes “The Cool Teddy” or “Teddy Pac” and may be used over and over again to “provide cuddly comfort for bumps, bruises and sore feelings,” according to its tag.

BLAKELY GOODWIN, a Grampa’s Garden employee, hand cuts the fabrics to make the hot and cold therapy packs. 
GRAMPA’S GARDEN PHOTO BLAKELY GOODWIN, a Grampa’s Garden employee, hand cuts the fabrics to make the hot and cold therapy packs. GRAMPA’S GARDEN PHOTO The bear, with the Mid Coast logo, has been completely toy tested, and has no movable parts.

The designer, president, owner and manufacturer of this delightful “Cool Teddy” is Grampa’s Garden Inc. of Brunswick and Topsham, a business started 19 years ago by Jacqui Painchaud, a licensed physical therapist.

Using her professional expertise, Painchaud dreamed up the idea of creating holistic therapy packs using natural materials, reflective of her upbringing by environmentally conscientious parents. Her company is named for them to honor their holistic health interests, which they passed onto their daughter.

Patty Ames, vice president and a part owner of Grampa’s Garden, said Painchaud “began to experiment with grains and other natural ingredients, starting small, making products in her home.”

Her first products were three hot or cold packs, an herbal massage oil and a beeswax lip balm. Nineteen years ago Painchaud went to her first Common Ground Fair and sold out the first day so she went home and made some more. She hasn’t stopped since.

Susan Hatch, head of the design team, works with Painchaud and Ames to develop new products like the Teddy as well as the new “Simply Cool” fabric product line, said Ames.

“People love, love, love what we have done using all natural materials,” Ames said. “Long grain rice and flax seed are the main ingredients, and if scented, we use spices and herbs. When it comes to aroma therapy, we err on the conservative side. The beauty of these products is that they can be both a cold pack and a hot pack, depending on the reason for use, and easily go from the freezer to microwave.”

Kara Aleixo Johnson, chairwoman of the Mid Coast Auxiliary Teddy Bear Club, has used Grampa’s Garden products “since I was expecting our kids. I bought the heat-able shawl to comfort the low back pain of pregnancy.

“Since then, all four of our children have received Teddy (bears) from Santa and/or for other special occasions — like having tonsils removed,” she said. “They have been such a comfort to my own kids, I was certain other children would love them as well.”

Through a mutual friend, Teresa Gillis, also on the Teddy bear committee, Johnson was introduced to Ames, “after many meetings and negotiations on behalf of the hospital, we finally came up with a Grampa’s Garden product — the ‘Cool Teddy’ — that would be a comfort to the children who came to Mid Coast.”

“We have control over what’s inside the Teddy (bears), and all of our products, by producing them locally,” Ames said.

A very interesting aspect of this business is the cottage industry that has sprung from its success, Ames said.

“The people who make these products are men and women in the surrounding towns who sew in their homes, and adhere to a strict weekly schedule of picking up kits and returning with the finished product one week later,” Ames said.

All stitchers work on high performance sewing machines. Mostly women, these stitchers could be grandmothers, single moms or moms wishing to work from home so children are not in day care.

“This is peak season right now,” Ames said, so stitchers are busy filling orders for such companies as L.L. Bean, Orvis, Vermont Country Store, Lois’ Naturals in Scarborough, Morning Glory in Brunswick, Royal River in Yarmouth, Whole Foods in Portland, and the gift shop at Mid Coast Hospital.

“The body shawl, 20 by 28 inches, is the No. 1 product for Grampa’s Garden, and is one of the 10 top products for Orvis,” Ames said.

“Our international market is a huge part of our business right now,” Ames continued. “We have a bricks and mortar store in Dubai, from which an agent handles the Middle East, as well as orders going to Colombia, Korea, Canada and Great Britain. Our largest growing market in the past five years is sensory integrated weighted products for children and the elderly.”

Grampa’s Garden has a retail store on Park Drive, Topsham, next to Goodwill. Visit its website at www.grampasgarden.com.

Johnson said she is “pleased to offer the Grampa’s Garden Teddy at the hospital. These locally made products fit perfectly with the caring and healing environment to which Mid Coast Hospital is committed.”

In addition to Teddy bears, the following businesses regularly donate new stuffed animals for patients: Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, Key Bank, Bath Savings, Navy Federal Credit Union, Androscoggin Bank, Norton Insurance and Financial, and Downeast Energy.

The Teddy Bear Club was started more than 15 years ago by a hospital employee who collected bottles and cans for recycling. With the proceeds, she purchased bears and other stuffed animals for children who came to the hospital for care.

MILLIE STEWART is director of volunteer services at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick.

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