In one afternoon, students at North View Junior High stuffed 319 bears with hope and comfort to be sent to children with HIV/AIDS in Africa and Haiti as part of the Mother Bear Project.
Forty students at the Osseo School District 279 school in Brooklyn Park gathered the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 26, to stuff handmade, knitted bears.
The project was a new one for the sixth through ninth grade students. Former North View parent and Maple Grove resident Judy Johnson read a December article in the Osseo Maple Grove Press about students making fleece scarves to send to Guatemala. She called the school to inquire about donating fleece. During the conversation with the school's International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Coordinator Sue Howard, Johnson's involvement with the Mother Bear Project came up.
The Mother Bear Project, founded seven years ago by Minnetonka resident Amy Berman, "is dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit or crocheted bear. The gift of a hand-knit bear with a tag signed by the knitter has touched children with the message that they are unconditionally loved," the organization's website said.
As of February 2010, the nonprofit organization has sent 49,100 bears to children affected by HIV/AIDS. Knitters from around the United States and world contribute bears to the project based on patterns available for $5 on the organization's website.
"It has grown more than I ever imagined," Berman said.
The beginnings of the Mother Bear Project were simple. Berman said she is just an ordinary person who felt an obligation to take action after an article she read about violent incidents involving children with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
"I wanted to do something personal, something from the heart," she said. "I was reminded of the handmade bears my mom made for my children."
Berman reached out to others to get the project off the ground. An article in a local paper launched the small local, initiative into an international effort.
Johnson found out about the project after she returned from a trip to India several years ago. She said she was "astonished" by how many children had nothing compared to the children in the United States and wanted to find a way to help and came across the Mother Bear Project.
"This is something I can do to help someone else," she said.
Since she began knitting the bears, she has created about 4,000 bears for the organization. Occasionally, Johnson reaches out to groups as her time allows - such as the North View Junior High students - to help stuff the bears.
"They [students] really understood about needing comfort and sharing that hope and comfort with others," she said.
Guided by Johnson and several staff members at North View during the stuffing session, she said it was a "great effort" by everyone.
"It was far more than I expected," she said. "It made my heart feel good to see so many people work together in harmony and love to help others."
The students that participated in the project were able to use it toward the 15 hours of service work required as part of the IB MYP program at the school.
"One of the fundamental concepts of the IB is intercultural awareness, so by doing community and service projects, students learn more about a community other than their own and how the needs of others can be the same or quite different from their own," North View Junior High IB Coordinator Sue Howard said.
Due to the positive response from students and requests to participate again, it is anticipated Johnson will return to the school in May with another group of bears for students to stuff.
"These students are the future leaders of the world and they absolutely understand the importance of caring for others and striving to make the world a better place for all," Johnson said.
For more information on the Mother Bear Project, visit www.motherbearproject.org.