Since founding Project Hero Hugs in 2016, Sandra Howe and hundreds of volunteers have
sewn and donated more than 4,000 uniformed teddy bears to veterans in appreciation
for their service.
It’ll be all hands on deck Saturday afternoon at Ferris State University for Project Hero Hugs — and that’s just the way Sandra Howe likes it.
“There’ll be plenty of ways to help, whether you know how to sew or not,” said Howe, a Ferris State custodian hosting a special teddy bear-building workshop from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Student Recreation Center, 401 South St.
Since founding Project Hero Hugs in 2016, Howe and hundreds of volunteers have sewn and donated more than 4,000 uniformed teddy bears to veterans in appreciation for their service. On Saturday, the public is invited to pitch in by cutting, sewing, stuffing, and hugging as many bears as possible.
“Every bear gets a hug before we gift it to a veteran and kids make the perfect bear-huggers,” said Howe, 64.
Howe gave her first stuffed bear to a neighbor in Stanwood whose son, Matt Webber, served in the military and died in 2006. On the 10th anniversary of his death, Howe made a bear and outfitted it with a vest made from his U.S. Air Force uniform.
“Matt’s mom held that bear so tightly … I’ll never forget it. That gave me a vision that I needed to do something more with these bears,” Howe said.
Sandra Howe, who champions Project Hero Hugs, said that most bears go to World War
II, Korean, Vietnam and critically ill veterans of any service era returning home
from a Mid-Michigan Honor Flight, one of 125 hubs across the country in the Honor
Today, most bears go to World War II, Korean, Vietnam and critically ill veterans of any service era returning home from a Mid-Michigan Honor Flight, one of 125 hubs across the country in the Honor Flight Network. The group transports American veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices.
Through the years, Howe has traveled numerous times to Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Flint to welcome veterans home from the nation’s capital. She usually brings 200 bears — enough for the veterans and the men and women who volunteer as Honor Flight guardians.
“We owe these veterans so much, and if a few scraps of material and a beat-up uniform we put together can touch a heart … then my day is complete,” said Howe, whose son, husband and other relatives served in the military.
She has also donated bears to the children of active service members and other veteran groups.
She makes most of the fleece bears herself and a friend sews tiny bear vests from donated military uniforms; its eyes are uniform buttons. Howe said she first learned to sew at age 5 but hasn’t sewed anything but bears in the last seven years.
“I absolutely love it,” she said.
Project Hero Hugs is headquartered in Howe’s guest room, where she sews after working the midnight shift at Ferris State. She’s gotten so fast; it only takes 20 minutes to sew one now. All her work is voluntary and funded through donations of money, uniforms, stuffing, thread and more.
This year, she’s already made more than 600 of the 18-inch-tall bears. Each one sports a heart on its paw with “Project Hero Hugs” embroidered inside it.
Howe said she’s excited about Saturday’s bear-building workshop at Ferris State and seeing others feel the same joy in honoring our veterans.
“I may have started this, but these bears are made by our whole community,” she said.
This story was reported by Beth McKenna for Ferris State University.