Promoting Healthy Families

 Basha Badada looks for sizes to fit her son, Abdalla, 1, earlier this month at the Teddy Bear Den in Sioux Falls. Teddy Bear Den participants earn credits for healthy living and exchange them for necessary baby care items such as diapers, clothing, cribs and high chairs. Badada is also five months pregnant.

Nonprofit cuts costs by helping moms stay healthy
But recession makes fundraising harder for Teddy Bear Den

Basha Badada looks for sizes to fit her son, Abdalla, 1, earlier this month at the Teddy Bear Den in Sioux Falls. Teddy Bear Den participants earn credits for healthy living and exchange them for necessary baby care items such as diapers, clothing, cribs and high chairs. Badada is also five months pregnant. / Photos by Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader

Teddy Bear Den executive director Sandy Lown (left) tallies points for Shannon Hamilton during a trip to the nonprofit earlier this month.

Teddy Bear Den executive director Sandy Lown (left) tallies points for Shannon Hamilton during a trip to the nonprofit earlier this month. / Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader

 The Teddy Bear Den in Sioux Falls hoped to raise enough money to buy 125 new baby cribs at a fundraiser earlier this year. It came away with enough money for 50 cribs, well short of the goal.

 Thankfully, anonymous donors stepped forward with $10,500, enough money to buy 75 cribs. But the case illustrates how difficult fundraising has become in the past few years in this city of 155,000, even for a community known for its charitable giving.

“Everybody is going in to ask the same individuals and the same businesses, and they, like everyone else, have had to cut back,” said Sandy Lown, the group’s executive director.

The Teddy Bear Den offers new and expecting low-income mothers with free baby items: Clothing, strollers, diapers, bottles, cribs and other necessities. But there’s a catch. To qualify, clients have to live healthy lifestyles — no alcohol or tobacco. They earn points for doctor visits, counseling, staying in school and other services. The points are traded in for baby necessities. The group works with about 220 area health care providers and other agencies who verify appointments and lifestyle.

Now in its 15th year, the Teddy Bear Den has a small space in the Calvary Episcopal Cathedral. Rent is $100 month. The group also has a “fantastic relationship” with Kmart, which helps provide baby items at a discount, Lown said.

It’s close to the downtown bus station, which is an important location for clients who rely on public transportation.

The program is credited with promoting healthy lifestyles of mothers, and healthier babies. State officials who are studying ways in which to reduce expenses for Medicaid, the federal/state health program for the poor, hope to duplicate the program in other parts of the state. Complications from unhealthy newborns are a key driver in rising Medicaid expenses: Since the economic recession, 50 percent of all new children in South Dakota will use Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the first year of their life, says Deb Bowman, a senior adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

“It’s really helped me out,” said Basha Badada, an immigrant from Ethiopia who has been in the program for a year. Badada was shopping for winter clothing for her young son. She is pregnant with a girl.

Shannon Hamilton, who is expecting a girl at the end of December, recently shopped for pink clothing at the Teddy Bear Den. Hamilton had earned points for doctor and dentist visits, and for education classes. It was her first trip to the Teddy Bear Den.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said of the program.

While dollars to provide the services have become more challenging to find, clients have not been as difficult to locate. Two years ago, the group had 733 clients. Now, the number is at 945.

“We’ve seen numbers that we never thought we would see,” Lown said.