Handmade bears travel around the world to brighten kids’ lives.
There aren’t many things more comforting than curling up with a cozy blanket or stuffed bear. Now, knitters and crafters are helping thousands of children in need of something to snuggle. Here are two organizations creating comfort—one stitch at a time.
Mother Bear Project
Nine years ago, Amy Berman, a mom in Minneapolis, read a newspaper article about the horrors that children in emerging Sub-Saharan African communities faced—rape, HIV/AIDS, and poverty. The article asked readers to send in “items of comfort” to give to South African children, and Berman immediately thought of what comforted her two children most: hand-knit bears made by her mother. Though she was hardly a master knitter, Berman tweaked a pattern her mother often used and made a bear to send. She began inviting neighbors and friends to make bears with her, and Mother Bear Project began. Since its start, the Mother Bear Project—now with knitters all over the United States—has shipped nearly 69,000 bears to African countries such as Botswana and Zambia.
“Kids who get these bears live in places where you can’t even imagine the poverty—it’s indescribable,” says Berman, who recently came back from a 20-day trip delivering bears in Namibia. “When I gave bears out on this last trip, one little girl said to me, ‘Do I really get to keep this bear? It’s all mine?’ The kids wanted to tie them to their backs, like they’ve seen mothers do with their babies,” says Berman.
Every family member can get involved in crafting a Mother Bear, says Berman. Made with a basic knit stitch, the bears are a manageable project for children or inexperienced crafters; even kids as young as 6 have made them. It’s a great teaching opportunity, too. “It’s a hard concept for kids to understand that there are children out there who don’t have a single toy,” says Berman. Making bears for those who are less fortunate shows kids that they can make a difference, she says. Go to motherbearproject.org to order a pattern and learn more.
When Courtnee Mulroy’s 11-year-old daughter, Sakura, fell ill with a brain infection that nearly took her life, it was a dark and scary time. What helped bring the Canton, South Dakota, family comfort were handmade blankets created by Project Linus volunteers, one of which was decorated in cherry blossoms—the Japanese translation of Sakura. “She had to have the blankets at all times,” Courtnee says. “It was amazing the comfort that she found in them.”
It was the desire to provide that kind of solace that inspired the birth of Project Linus in 1995. Founder Karen Loucks started crocheting blankets for her local Denver hospital after hearing how a young girl’s fight against leukemia was aided by her security blanket. Other people in the area wanted to take part, and a network of crafters quickly formed. Seven years later, Project Linus has nearly 400 local chapters, donating 500,000 handmade blankets each year to local hospitals, social service groups, shelters, and natural disaster relief efforts. Visit projectlinus.org to see how to take part—even the littlest family member can help with tie-end fleece blankets. And mark February 18 on your calendar: It’s Project Linus’s national Make a Blanket Day, which brings in more than 75,000 blankets each year.