Rescuing Teddy


Grandmother and granddaughter give teddy bears a second chance in this real-life toy story

By Amy Brase

There’s nothing so sad as a teddy bear left behind. But children grow up, and once cherished toys no longer have a special place on the pillow or tucked under an arm. 

It took 5-year-old Lillian Dostal from Hastings, Minn., to dream up a beautiful, new solution to an age-old dilemma. While on a walk with her grandmother, Marcie Freeman, in May of 2012, Lillian came upon a teddy bear left on the top of a trash can.

“Why are they throwing away their teddy bear? Don’t they love him anymore? Can we take him home?” inquired the heartbroken girl.

Lillian remembered the day so clearly. “It made me sad to see him all alone. I was worried about him and what would happen to him.”

With perfect timing, a door opened and out stepped the mother of the boy who had outgrown his bear. She gave her blessing for Lillian to take him home. Teddy was quickly plucked from the trash, hugged tight and reassured of how safe he was now and all the wonderful things that
they would be doing together. The rest is now history.

Bear necessities

In the process of researching how to clean and recover “Blu” just right, Marcie’s heart grew and eyes were opened to the massive number of teddy bears that end up in landfills.

“Most people throw them away. Even if they donate, the bears have a shelf life and often end up in a landfill,” said Marcie. “The average bear takes 15 years to decompose. The very thought of a child’s once trusted friend now just discarded on a huge trash pile waiting to decompose was downright heart wrenching. It hit me that every person has a purpose—and my purpose was going to be to save these beloved friends.”

Marcie and Lillian, together with Marcie’s husband, Douglas, and daughters, have rescued and recovered over 4,800 bears in the past three years. They spend about 50 hours a week on this mission.

“We scour garage sales, the Goodwill and Salvation Army for ‘last day on the shelf bears,’” says Marcie. “I wake up to find boxes on my front step. People mail us bears and we recently even got some from Germany. It’s exciting!”

All little friends must be de-stuffed before being professionally dry cleaned because chemicals attach to the polyfill. The bears are refilled with hypoallergenic stuffing, and the old polyfill is sewed into pillowcases as beds for animal shelters.

Rips and scratches are mended, and the bears are taken for a whirl around Target’s baby section for the perfect little outfits before adoption certificates are printed and bears are sold at special events at an average price of $20.

Ten percent of all sales goes to SMART, Southern Minnesota Animal Rescue Team (

Following a calling

Rescuing Teddy has changed Marcie’s life in many ways. There’s now an entire room in her home designated as the Bear Hospital. Her husband serves as the driver and picks up extra hours at work so that Marcie and Lillian can fulfill their calling.

“I never get tired of it,” said Marcie. “There’s this true sense of who you’re supposed to be when you look into the eyes of a child.”

Lillian is proud of her part in it too, “It makes me feel important and special because I’m making other kids and better with love.”

Follow their work at

Amy Brase is a writer with a soft heart for teddy bears and all things stuffed. Her youngest daughter’s room is so full of stuffed friends that there’s no room for a bed.

Rescue a Teddy 

Come pick out a forever friend and make the holidays bright for a child or adult. Rescuing Teddy will be at these events:

December 10 Christmas By the Bluffs, Minnesota Army National Guard in Red Wing, 9am–3pm

December 11 Savage Legion Expo, Dan Patch American Legion in Savage, 9am–2pm