Wildcat Wearhouse bears benefit Ronald McDonald House

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for an altruistic University of Kentucky fan, consider getting involved in the Bear Hugs Program.

Every family who stays at the Ronald McDonald House in Lexington is given a blue and white teddy bear, and Kaitlyne Burke is no different. Burke has temporarily made her home the Ronald McDonald House, so she could watch her daughter’s progress at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Her daughter, Madison Grace, was born at just 25 weeks, at a weight of one pound nine ounces, making her a micropreemie.

When she got to the house, one of the first things she noticed in her room was a gift basket, paired with the stuffed toy. “The teddy bear was in there and I loved that,” said Burke. “We actually brought it up to her and set it on her table in front of her bed.”

Burke’s bear was donated by Wildcat Wearhouse. Every time someone buys a bear from the store, it donates one, and a $20 gift certificate to the store, to a family at the Ronald McDonald House as part of the Bear Hugs Program. “It’s so easy for us to fit ourselves into their mission,” says Rhea Starns, public relations manager, Wildcat Wearhouse. “These families are coming from all across the state, which is where we have our stores and where all the fans are. It connects all of us and the Ronald McDonald House.”

Burke says though “Gracie” was born early, she is a fighter. Burke has celebrated milestones like when Gracie lifted her head on her own, was bottle fed for the first time and hit the three pound mark. ” It changed me a lot. It changed me and her dad a lot. We grew up and realized a lot of things,” says Burke.

One of the reasons the Bear Hugs Program was created was to bring stability and comfort to families, according to the Ronald McDonald House Executive Director Sarah Lister. “The idea of having something and having something to comfort them immediately in their time of need,” says Lister.

The holidays are a critical time for fundraising efforts at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass, so it can continue to provide a free and safe place for families to stay while they are seeking medical care for their children. “They showed up not expecting to be here. This is not like a hotel, there is no reservation. Nobody intended or believed their child was going to be sick the next day,” says Sarah Jordan, Special Events and Promotions Coordinator, Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass.

That’s why the staff says the bear makes an excellent Christmas gift: it gives people an opportunity to help families all year round. Burke says she will keep her bear forever. “It will be in her room when we get home. I’ll never forget how good they’ve been to me here,” says Burke.

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