MIDLOTHIAN

Legacy DeMolay has given away over 10,000 teddy bears to kids in need over the last 10 years.

With chapters founded in 24 countries and counting, DeMolay International is a youth fraternity that develops leadership skills in boys from ages 12 to 21. Their Midlothian chapter, Legacy DeMolay, just celebrated its 10th anniversary for the annual bear drive on Monday at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, where they donated their last big batch of 1,445 teddy bears to the hospital.

Holding their first Bear Drive in March 2009, Legacy DeMolay advisor Felest Ingersoll said the concept sprouted when she asked their new youth leaders to write out ideas for fundraising, community service and generally fun things to do.

That was when the group had an epiphany.

“One of them said ‘I would like to do community service at a children’s home,’” Felest recalled. “The other big, goofy guy said ‘I want to go to Build-A-Bear.’ What if we merged these two ideas and married them together?”

The chapter immediately got to work and started fundraising for the teddy bear drive. After a mutual connection helped them get a 50 percent discount and a birthday package where they got a free teddy bear for every ten bears at Build-A-Bear, about 20 Legacy DeMolay boys were able to donate 86 bears to the Texas Baptist Home in Waxahachie.

“That just hit them right in the heart,” Felest’s husband, Roger, said. “This was not a one-and-done. We were doing this again.”

Since then, Legacy DeMolay has increased their teddy bears donated by nearly every year since their first bear drive. Last year saw their most significant donation yet with 1,878 teddy bears total.

This year’s 1,863 teddy bears brings the group's total donated throughout the program to 10,002 — just in time for their 10th anniversary for the drive.

While organizing for the bear drive, the Ingersoll’s residence tends to get relatively hectic. Roger remembered the first time he had to pack up the teddy bears and deliver them to the children's home.

“We had to put these boxes in the back of my truck to deliver them,” he recalled. “I had bears in the back of the truck, we had them in the passenger's seat, in the back. They were everywhere.”

However, Felest said it was nothing compared to their more recent drives. This past year, teddy bears flooded the Ingersoll’s living room like a scene out of Titanic. Felest recalled being buried under a literal pile of teddy bears where she could barely stick her head out. The remaining bears were stuffed into bags in their backroom, where Felest could scarcely even step foot.

“This living room was nuts,” Roger recollected. “I mean, you’ve got 500 teddy bears scattered around the living room and a puppy who knows that those are not her toys. I expected them to be ripped apart when we got her.”

After the bulk donation to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, Felest said Legacy DeMolay typically donates the remaining teddy bears to local police and fire departments for their use.

“We provide it to them so that when they have a first responder and a child is involved, they have something they can give them,” Roger explained.

Felest said Legacy DeMolay exists to take good boys and mold them into better men. Charity events like the Bear Drive help them to achieve that.

“We live in a ‘what’s in it for me?’ generation,” Roger explained. “With DeMolay, there’s nothing 'in it' for you. It’s what can you do to improve yourself and to improve the community around you.”

Felest said it’s a rewarding experience to give children a reason to be happy, and it’s even more rewarding when she sees her boys realize that.

“We get children all the time that come in with nothing,” Felest explained. “They are brought in with nothing. This really does make all the difference.’”

Legacy DeMolay is currently fundraising for their 2019 Bear Drive. To donate to the chapter or find out how you can join, call 469-340-2575 or email legacy@txdemolay.org.

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David Dunn, @DavidDunnInTX

469-517-1456