Aroostook County – On July 27 residents in Presque Isle may have heard a low rumble moving through town as dozens of motorcyclists made their way to TAMC with teddy bears they picked up along their journey from various places around The County.
The United Vets Teddy Bear Run began at the American Legion in Houlton and made its way to Presque Isle, where riders delivered teddy bears to various donation points and to the emergency room at TAMC. After the group made their delivery, they had lunch together before ending the ride.
The ride began as an effort to help abused children, but, over the years, has morphed into donations to local emergency rooms for children who come in with injuries or illnesses, says Club President Bob Wright.
“When a child comes in and they’re hurt and afraid and you give them a doll or a bear, it helps to calm them,” explained Wright.
TAMC Emergency Department Manager Georgina Schiff, RN, says the donation will mean a lot to the children receiving the bears.
“I love the quote by the late Maya Angelou: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ This is especially true for children because they may not fully understand their circumstances. A small gesture goes a long way. We certainly thank the United Vets for making our job a little easier and the emergency room visit for children a little nicer,” said Schiff.
Anyone can participate in the ride, and the popularity of this event has grown.
“All they have to do is show up on a motorcycle with a bear. All of the club rides up here are open,” says Wright. “On a good day with nice weather and whatnot, upwards of 75 bikes participate.”
Participants gather stuffed animals from all over, according to Wright. Some show up with bears in hand that they purchased themselves or which were donated to the cause. Certain businesses participate as well. Kay Jewelers in Presque Isle offers bears in their store for a $20 donation to benefit St. Jude’s Hospital. Sometimes, people will make a donation, but they don’t have use for the bear, so Kay donates the unclaimed bears to the run.
“We get quite a few from them, they help us out a lot,” said Wright, but he says the ride also receives quite a bit of support from other individuals and businesses in the community. “We go around and collect. People know that we do it, so it’s not unusual for them to just drop off a bag of teddy bears. Everyone who participates in the ride has to bring a bear. We don’t put out boxes or any of that, it’s just members in the club and people they know.”
Before the ride begins, all of the bears are collected and placed into black contractor bags so that each donation drop-off point will receive the same amount. In addition to the emergency department at TAMC, the group will donate the stuffed animals to Visiting Nurses of Aroostook, Houlton Regional Hospital and the homeless shelter in Presque Isle.
“Our motto has always been, ‘there’s nothing too big, nothing too small.’ We’ll bring as many as we can gather,” said Wright. So far this year, Wright estimates having a total of about 600 stuffed animals.
For the past dozen or so years, the United Vets Motorcycle Club has shed any biker stereotype to give back to the community with this special ride, and County kids benefit from their caring and generosity. Wright says this event is actually just one of several his organization hosts each year to bring a little light into the world.
“Most of the clubs up here do things to benefit the community,” said Wright. “They’re all good people. They care about Aroostook County and their community. It’s amazing the amount of materials and monies that these clubs raise. The other thing that amazes me is that so few people actually know what they do.”
The United Vets Motorcycle Club organized over 20 years ago and currently has about 23 active members. Over the years, and often annually, they have raised money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and sponsored children from Aroostook County, hosted toy runs at Christmas, and hosted a POW/MIA/KIA remembrance day at Memorial Park in Houlton. This year, in addition to all of that, they decided to contribute to the Wounded Heroes Project, which is based in Maine.
“Being as we are the United Vets, we felt it was appropriate to do something for our returning vets this year,” said Wright.
It’s unnecessary to be a veteran to be a member of the United Vets Motorcycle Club, though veteran status is required to be an officer in the club. Otherwise, people interested in joining the Motorcycle Club only need to understand what being a veteran is to join.
If interested in learning more about the United Vets Teddy Bear Run or about the United Vets Motorcycle Club, contact Bob Wright at (207) 540-6475.