HOT SPRINGS (AP) — For children at the site of tragedies and traumas, not much is certain, but many in the Hot Springs area will have a plush friend to help them through the tough times thanks to the ER Toys program via the Women's Welcome Club of Hot Springs.
The club started the program over 50 years ago, and to this day, every second Wednesday of each month at 11 a.m., 35-40 volunteer members gather at Westminster Presbyterian Church to stuff animals. The ladies average 85 animals each month, and up to 1,800 per year, according to native Chicagoan and chairwoman of five years, Beverly Goodridge. Since she became chair, she estimates the committee has made 7,000 ER Toys.
Each toy takes three months to complete from beginning to end, The Sentinel-Record reported . There are different stations and members that handle each step of the process: cutting the patterns, sewing the pieces together, attaching felt eyes, tails, fins, ears and other elements, ironing the empty shells, stuffing them, attaching small tags that read "With love from the Women's Welcome Club," and sewing them shut. Thanks to fabric donations, each animal costs just a few cents to make.
The ladies make an assortment of animals — pigs, elephants, dachshunds, Scottish terriers, hounds, ducks, giraffes, horses and bass. The newest addition to their repertoire is dinosaurs. This year, the group intends to add a cat to the lineup. Patterns for the animals are made from scratch or found online.
ER Toys stay in the Hot Springs area. They are sent to Jackson House, hospitals, the Hot Springs Police Department, the Garland County Sheriff's Department, First Step, I Can! Dance (which was recently just given 45 giraffes).
"The police department and the sheriff's department love them because they put them in the cars," said Goodridge. Also, this past Christmas, 100 were given to First Baptist Church to dispense to children in need.
Goodridge said she keeps seeing them crop up in unexpected places. For example, she heard the local fire department was giving children ER Toys, but the ladies have never delivered any there. Also, she has heard of judges in the area giving toys to distressed children in courtrooms. These stories thrill the ladies, and they take it as a sign that they need to make and donate even more animals to more areas of Hot Springs.
Judy Adair, who has made ER Toys for eight years, says "The most proud that all of us feel is when we meet someone on the street and someone sees the donation bag or our name tags and they ask if we make those little toys. My son got one when he was 3 in the ER and he still sleeps with it and he's 7!" The ladies shared another story of a little girl who received an ER Toy in the hospital and later came in to meet the ladies, see how the toys were made, and help make animals for other children.
A native of San Diego and ER Toys co-chair of five years, Nancy Skoglund, said she enjoys the people and "getting to do something for little ones that are scared." She also enjoys the creative aspects of the project. "You get to do a little bit of designing. It keeps me busy at home too." All in all, Skoglund said, "I just think it's a nice thing to do."
"This is such a wonderful group of women. They all work hard and they don't get paid anything. They are just wonderful and it's so much fun. They get to come and see the people that they haven't got to see through the month. We are like one big happy family," said Adair. She extended an invitation to all new members and new women in the area, saying that "We always want the new people to understand that they are so welcome."
Goodridge sums up the purpose of ER Toys this way: "They hand a child a little toy and it puts a smile on their face. That's what we're doing: putting smiles on children's faces."