Operation Teddy Bear: Lakes Area Parrot Heads spread Christmas cheer, hugs--and bears--at local hospital and nursing homes
When the Lakes Area Parrot Heads make their rounds at the local hospital and nursing homes every Christmas morning — with Santa and Mrs. Claus in tow — they're greeted with lots of excitement and smiles.
That's because the patients and residents at Essentia Health-St. Mary's, Oak Crossing and Ecumen Detroit Lakes know they're about to receive a very special gift: A fluffy teddy bear to call their own.
"This will be our 14th year," says Jim Brogren, president of the Lakes Area Parrot Heads. "For many of us, Operation Teddy Bear is our favorite part of Christmas. It just brings everyone so much joy to see all the smiles on people's faces."
Starting at 11 a.m. on Christmas Day, the Parrot Heads members meet Santa and Mrs. Claus at the east entrance of the hospital and begin giving out anywhere between 300-600 bears, depending on how much money was available to purchase bears that year.
"Because of the weather, our Boats and Bars fundraiser didn't do so well this year, so Julie Herman stepped up and started a Facebook campaign to raise money for the bears," Brogren said. "A lot of local businesses, school classrooms and private individuals donated toward the project this year."
Because of these donations, more than 300 bears will be given out — but anyone who wants to contribute toward the project may still do so, by contacting Brogren by phone at 218-841-2968.
"We get the bears from a variety of places," he said. "Online, at dollar stores... anywhere that we can make those dollars stretch as far as possible."
On the morning of Dec. 25, Parrot Heads will dress up in their finest Christmas sweaters and head on over to the hospital to begin distributing the bears to the patients.
"The Great Christmas Parrot always comes along with us, and we usually have both Santa and Mrs. Claus there too," said Brogren.
After starting at the hospital, the group continues over to Oak Crossing (on the Essentia Health St. Mary's campus), then proceed to Ecumen Detroit Lakes to visit the residents of Emmanuel Nursing Home. If there are still bears left, they will visit some of the assisted living facilities in town as well.
"We keep going until the bears are gone," Brogren said. "It's a really fun thing for everyone. Many of the nursing home residents save their bears from each year and display them in their rooms. For some, we are their only Christmas visitors, as they don't have any family living nearby, so it means a lot."
Afterwards, the group often gathers at Emmanuel to sing a few Christmas carols with the residents, with Parrot Heads member Ginny Klein providing the piano accompaniment.
"The residents love that," Brogren said. "They sing along with us — some of them really belt it out. It's so much fun."
Started in 2004, the Lakes Area Parrot Heads is the regional chapter of Parrot Heads in Paradise, Inc. For more information about the organization and what they do, please visit www.lakesareaparrotheads.com.