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'I can't even express how much they mean to us' | Roane Co. woman helps keep memories of loved ones alive

Juanita Jackson sews "memory bears" using articles of clothing belonging to people who've passed away.

ROANE COUNTY, Tenn. — Nearly two years ago, we brought you the story of a woman helping people remember their loved ones in a unique way.

Since then, Juanita Jackson of Roane County has been able to reach people across the country, at times mailing orders as far as California.

Jackson sews "memory bears" using articles of clothing belonging to people who've passed away. 

"It gives them a memory, something physical, they can actually hold on to. And most of the time, they smell just like that person," Jackson said.

One thousand bears and hundreds of orders later, Jackson has expanded her portfolio to include various animals, patterns and quilts.

"I sew all day long," Jackson admitted. "There's been weeks that I've gone and not taken a day off."

When Jackson posted on Facebook in 2020 asking if anyone would like a teddy bear to honor a loved one's memory, she didn't expect orders to continue rolling in nearly two years later.

"I didn't have a clue. I thought, 'Maybe it'll go for a month or two and then it'll die off,'" Jackson said. "I didn't realize there was that big of a need or a want for it."

That demand is continuing to grow. 

"I literally have one in my car," Melinda Eaton, who lost her grandfather eight months ago, said. Eaton has requested multiple bears from Jackson using her grandfather's collared shirts. "I can't even express how much they mean to us."

Jackson gives most of her creations away for free but said she must charge a small price for quilts because of the added expense of working with a third party.

She always creates a "practice bear" first to ensure the final result is what she envisioned. Jackson then donates the unused bears to the Rockwood Police Department, hoping officers will give them out to kids they encounter.

Jackson also recently began working with RARE Science, a California-based nonprofit organization. Through its RARE Bear program, Jackson creates one-of-a-kind bears for children with rare diseases.

Jackson said being able to provide people with a sense of comfort and peace is what keeps her motivated. 

"It amazes me that most of these people don't even know me," Jackson said. "I just thank everybody for trusting me."

    

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