La PORTE — A group of local quilters' recent donation to the Little Learners Preschool was especially warm and fuzzy — and not just because it involved teddy bears.

On Oct. 7, Dottie Sparks, Marlene Woodfield and Sue Hughes — members of the local quilting club, the Gourmet Quilters — presented a batch of 20 handmade "sensory" bears to the La Porte special education program. Educators plan to use the multicolored stuffed animals, which the sewers made with highly tactile and soothing material, in their classrooms to help calm restless students.

The quilters gave the cuddly critters to Melissa Morse, a behavioral specialist with the South La Porte County Special Education Cooperative, the organization that runs the preschool. The women made the bears in honor of Morse's mother, Meredith Gulstrom, a longtime member of the quilting group who died in June.

The preschool staff joined Morse and the sewers in the school's main office that morning for the presentation of the "Meri Bears," where they shared more about the gift and women who inspired it. 

"We very much love and miss her mother," Woodfield said, prompting Morse to tear up. "This donation makes us feel a little closer to her."

More than 20 years ago, Gulstrom created a quilt about the group, who work on their projects while enjoying a homecooked lunch together at one of the members' homes. The Indiana State Museum would later select Gulstrom's handmade creation for display, Woodfield said.

Her memory will live on through the sensory bears, which the preschool will place inside the so-called "calm corner" in each classroom, said Becky Jeffers, one of the supervisors with the co-op.  

"If a child gets upset, they can go over and hug on [the bears] a little bit," she said.

The Gourmet Quilters have donated similar gifts to the preschool in the past, including making a batch sensory blankets for students, Morse said. The group also regularly contributes to the program's annual raffle.

"They do a lot for the school behind the scenes," Morse said. "People don't know everything they do for us."

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