Thursday, May 8, 1997
Mama Bear will help
clean your closets

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mama Bear doesn't mince words, so I won't either.

She wants clothes, money, laundry detergent, grocery store coupons, shoes, socks, blankets, sheets and baby beds. Oh, and a warehouse. She thinks something in Norwood or Oakley would be nice. And a single-floor plan would be easier on her knees, which are getting a little creaky.

She is not greedy - or even pushy - but she speaks with the boldness of a person who needs help for a good cause. She's not too proud to beg, either.

She thinks God is on her side. And she knows Billy is.

Billy Eich and his family were among her first clients. In 1990, their house in Oakley burned. "Nothing was left," Billy, now 16, says. "I didn't have anything but the shorts I was wearing when I ran out of the house."

Enter Shirley Tilford, whom everybody calls Mama Bear. She collects good used clothing, mostly children's stuff, and hands it out to people who need it. Fires, floods, just plain bad luck.

Every Saturday from noon until 2:30 p.m., the store is open. Or, she'll meet you there anytime, if it's an emergency. It can be a giving emergency or a taking emergency. Just call the Mama Bear 24-hour hot line at 321-8209.

Come to the side door of Oakley Baptist Church, 3066 Madison Road. She'll show you to the basement, then get out of your way and let you browse. You can pick out anything you want.

Billy might help you load it in your car. But nobody presents a bill. And no questions are asked. Mama assumes if you take it, you need it. So far, her store policy has worked. Business is booming.

Social workers call her when they need help. For instance, a woman with 10 kids got her life pulled together, a place to live, a job. The kids were reassembled and put back in her care. Mama Bear outfitted the whole bunch.

Children, of course, do not live by Carter's sleepers and OshKosh B'Gosh rompers alone. There's a tub of toys, and Billy hauls in boxes of books. "He does all the heavy work," she says, "plus that boy can fix anything - toys, toasters." Although she collects mostly children's clothing and furniture, "I'll take anything, and I'll make sure it gets where it's needed."

Trouble is, she's outgrowing her space at the church. There are three rooms of clothing and shoes, a linen cupboard and a room where donated stuff is sorted. Mama makes sure everything is laundered and "nice, with all its buttons."

Christmas and winter items are stored in egg boxes from the IGA down the street. She scrounges certificates for oil changes from Marge Schott and pizzas from LaRosa's. She collared Rosalyn Carter in Washington last year "to ask her about, you know, charity."

Yes, I know, and I'll bet she asked Rosalyn and Jimmy to build somebody a house. A volunteer before it was national policy, she was in the capital to collect the "1996 Jefferson Award: A Salute to America's Unsung Heroes." She had her picture taken with Sen. John Glenn, and I'm guessing he's now in her Rolodex.

She would like to help you with your spring cleaning. At least, you could think of it that way if it helps you get off the dime. If you have anything you think she can use (including a warehouse, of course), her address is 3781 Eastern Hills Lane, Apartment 406, Cincinnati 45209.

Just turned 65 and a widow of two years, Mama Bear retired from United Home Care seven years ago. She has been a member of Oakley Baptist for 40 years. She raised four kids and knows that "sometimes people need a little boost."

She says she doesn't know why everyone started calling her Mama Bear. But I probably do. As I left, she folded me into a bear hug that took my breath away. And I remembered Goldilocks. This Mama Bear will take the stuff you have shoved to the back of your closets and the bottoms of your drawers and give it to people who need it.

And you'll feel soooo big.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU (91.7 MHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.