Vicki Bergeron has had some extra incentive to look forward to the holidays this year.
The Luling woman along with her son Logan are behind the annual Teddy Cares teddy bear drive in which stuffed bears are delivered to children who are being treated for cancer at local hospitals. This year will mark a special milestone in the 16-year run of the drive, as for the first time since 2019, Bergeron will be able to make those teddy bear deliveries herself – and once again see the joy those gifts bring to each of the recipients.
COVID restrictions prevented in-person deliveries from Bergeron in the past three years, but she’s kept the program going nonetheless through that and made sure the bears were delivered.
“People would come to me and ask, ‘Hey, are you still doing it?’” Bergeron said. “With COVID and the storm, it was hard to really ask for help, but we managed to keep it going. I’m really excited to be able to go back and do it in full again.”
It’s a labor of love for Bergeron, and just as it brings smiles to the faces of the children on the receiving end, it creates joy for her as well during a time that is otherwise quite difficult for her and her family.
At the very heart of Teddy Cares is Bergeron’s son, Kyle.
Dec. 30 of this year marks 17 years from the day of Kyle’s passing following a 22-month battle with leukemia. He was just 18 years old.
Following his passing, Bergeron and Logan brainstormed ways to honor and continue Kyle’s memory—“We hoped to do something that would make him proud,” Bergeron said — and something clicked in Logan’s mind that’s since become a tradition.
“He just blurted it out. ‘Mom, we’ve gotta get our money together that we’d spend on him, that you’d spend on us for Christmas, and bring Teddy Bears to the kids at the hospital,’” she said. “He just knew that’s what we had to do, and there wasn’t any question. I feel like (Logan and Kyle) they still have that thing, that connection going on (as twins).
“That first Christmas, we didn’t feel like celebrating. We didn’t know how we’d get through Christmas without Kyle. And (Logan) came up with that idea to bring the teddy bears. We’ve been doing it ever since.”
Bergeron said Kyle had a very soft spot for the younger children going through the same painful and exhausting treatments he had to endure.
As many as 300 bears have been delivered in a given year to brighten the holidays for hospitalized children and their families. Through the Teddy Cares drive, sponsors are secured for each bear for $15, and each sponsor may name the bear. Often, the bears are named in memory of loved ones who have passed. In recent years, Teddy Cares has expanded with gift cards going to several recipients – Bergeron said that addition came with older children/teenagers in mind.
Bergeron has said there is little in the world that matches the feeling of seeing a child’s face brighten when receiving their bear, which she delivers to local hospitals the Saturday before Christmas. Even beyond that, she said the process is truly a rewarding one as it allows a connection with families battling the same great adversity that her own knows all too well.
The community has embraced the Teddy Cares drive – seven St. Charles Parish schools are involved and help raise money for the drive.
At one of those schools, Mimosa Park Elementary – where Bergeron works as a para-educator – she recently talked to the students in a presentation during the schoolwide community’s monthly meeting. During that presentation, she spoke about Kyle’s life.
“I read it to them like a story,” Bergeron said. “I want to tell you a story about a boy named Kyle, a 16-year old boy who loved to sing and dance and who was very active in community theatre.”
She told them about how he lives on after his passing through Teddy Cares. A nurse who cared for Kyle during his cancer battle joined the presentation and spoke about what it was like seeing the children at the hospital receiving the bears and what it meant to them.
“One neat thing was that we highlight a character trait for every month, and this month was gratitude,” Bergeron said. “So, she was able to build off of that as she talked about it, how the bears put a smile on their face.”
Those interested in sponsoring have several avenues to do so. Local businesses accepting sponsor sheets and donations are Mariono’s, Cherry Lane Boutique, First National Bank USA in Boutte, Roussell’s Fine Jewelry and Pit Stop Saloon.
“It’s a difficult time for us, but this just makes me get up and go,” said Bergeron. “Of course, the sadness hits at this time of year, but this is my drive. It keeps me going and I know that Kyle is 100 percent behind this – it’s what he would have wanted and I know he would be so proud to see how far its come.”