Graphic: Benevolent bears RFDS

Benevolent bears

Date published

22 Nov 2021

While COVID-19 social distancing measures have meant a lack of cuddles in recent times, there is no shortage of bear hugs on board Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) emergency flights.

Each year, Adelaide’s Pembroke School donates hand-stitched teddy bears, which help provide extra in-flight comfort to RFDS patients.

Whether it’s a young child, a soon-to-be mum, or an older loved one who struggles with the idea of flying, the teddies make their way into the hands, and hearts, of people from many different walks of life.

RFDS Pembroke bears

Photo: Pembroke 'chief bear makers', Catherine Newgrain and Lenard Nicholls with Pembroke middle and senior school students.

This month, the school handed over its latest ‘hug of bears’ to the RFDS. The collection of 12 bears will be called into action as soon as they are needed.

Each bear is given a name by the students, which is sewn into a personalised foot patch. The RFDS team then tracks the bears so students know how far and wide the teddies travel.

Pembroke School teachers and ‘chief bear makers’, Lenard Nicholls and Catherine Newgrain, said students volunteer their time after school each week, with a single bear taking at least six months to create.

Pembroke bears cockpit

“We’ve had students who’ve unpicked the same thing three or four times, but they are committed knowing that it’s going to help somebody,” Ms Nicholls said.

“I tell the students that a small bit of fur fabric and stuffing has the power to change the way a child or family will respond to a traumatic event.

“A bear can make a difference – and it can be a lifelong memory.”

The Pembroke Bear Making Program has been running since 1987 – over that time, students have made more than 2,400 bears for the Royal Flying Doctor Service to hand out to patients.