Noel Schoessow, of Menomonee Falls, Wisc., spent a year recovering from eye surgery as a child. One source of comfort for the boy was a puppet named “Fido,” a gift from his family. Though many years have passed since the 51-year-old had to endure the loneliness of an extended hospital stay, the memory of that puppet has prompted him to spend the past 10 years helping bring a little comfort to children in similar circumstances. The Bear Hug Project, which Schoessow founded in 2011, provides stuffed companions from a local Build-a-Bear Workshop to young patients at area hospitals. So far, the organization has donated more than 3,000 bears. “It is important for kids in the hospital to get a bear for Christmas,” said Laken Schoessow, Noel Schoessow's daughter and member of the organization's board of directors. “It is important to see kids in the hospital smile.” The program’s youngest recipients, premature infants, are particularly dear to Schoessow’s heart. Fellow board of directors member Nick Godsey, whose son spent the first 95 days of his life in the NICU, feels that, during that difficult time, a bear "may have comforted him while I was not there.”

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