MELROSE PARK, Ill., April 24 (UPI) -- A Chicago-area teenager and five friends collected more than 500 new teddy bears for hospitalized children, hospital officials say.
Thirteen-year-old Michelle Fritz had visited her grandfather regularly when he was being treated at Loyola University Health System's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in suburban Chicago. There, she noticed a young patient who never seemed to have visitors.
"I felt really sorry for her because she didn't have any family or friends who brought her presents or came to see her and she looked so sad and lonely," the seventh-grader says in a statement.
Fritz and her friends collected the stuffed animals from community members as part of their "Hospital Hearts Teddy Bears" program.
Wearing shirts they created themselves to promote their program, Fritz and friends Carli Deegan and Bri Swanson visited Gottlieb's pediatrics department to personally deliver the warm, fuzzy friends.
"We started the program in December but we want to continue to encourage teddy bear donations," Deegan says. "I play sports and have broken six bones in the past three months. I know how scary coming to the hospital can be."
Marilou Rodriguez, supervising nurse of the pediatrics department, says a hospital stay can be stressful for children and for many it is their first time away from home.
"Having a colorful, cuddly bear for company helps calm fears and promote healing," Rodriguez adds.