Stuffed with love: Bear-hugs project comforts seniors

By Sean Barron


When it comes to senior citizens in area nursing homes and long-term care facilities, you might say Dolores Lilko has a soft spot.

And that translates into making their lives quite a bit softer.

“I appreciate people calling and donating,” the 81-year-old Lilko said this week from Windsor House at Omni Manor Health Care Center, 3245 Vestal Road on the West Side. “It really is heartwarming.”

Lilko, affectionately known as “Grandma Dee Dee,” was referring to those who have donated hundreds of new and used teddy bears of all sizes, shapes and colors as part of her Bear-hugs project, in which she will distribute the stuffed animals to nursing-home residents throughout Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Lilko, who left this week for New Philadelphia, Ohio, to be closer to her daughter, was at Omni Manor since late August to receive short-term rehabilitation services. During her short stay, she received dozens of stuffed animals, including about 40 that filled her room.

In September 2006, Lilko began the drive to collect teddy bears after her two grandchildren gave her a Beanie Buddy stuffed animal. It wasn’t long before she discovered that the stuffed bear was comforting and therapeutic for her arthritic hands.

Soon afterward, she decided that all nursing-home residents should have such an animal to hold, in part to brighten their days, she said.

Lilko estimated that she has received more than 3,000 stuffed animals since launching her effort six years ago.

In the meantime, Omni Manor has a room set aside to house the donated bears, noted Julie Vilano, activities director.

Vilano said she plans to contact Lilko about returning to assist with the distribution of the bears, and staff will ensure donated items get to those in area nursing homes as per Lilko’s wishes.

“She’s a joy to be around,” Vilano said of Lilko. “She’s one of those people who makes you smile when you’re around her.”

People can drop off donated stuffed animals from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Friday at Omni Manor or call Vilano at 330-793-5648.

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