Patterson resident Angela Memmel has been knitting stuffed teddy bears since 2007 as a way to provide comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/ AIDS in Africa. Her work is part of the Mother Bear Project started by Minnesotan Amy Berman, who, having heard of young African children orphaned by AIDS, decided to make the hand-knit bears, similar to the ones her mother made for English children during the worst months of the blitz in World War II.
With the help of volunteers like Angela Memmel across the world, over 46,000 hand-knit bears have been sent to African children, each with a small heart attached to the chest.
“I knew I had to do something to bring comfort and hope to these children and awareness to others,” Berman said upon founding the project.
As for Memmel, she said her next door neighbor taught her how to knit. “You don’t actually have to be that good a knitter to do it, the patterns are really simple,” Memmel said. “And that’s how I got started.” Both men and women, from the beginner knitter to the experienced, and from ages 6 to 99, contribute to the Mother Bear Project.
“The bears have touched the lives of the children, and you’ll never realize,” Memmel said. “One child risked his life to rescue a bear, another child asked to have the bear buried with her.”
After volunteers make the bears, they are sent to Berman in Minnesota, who attaches the “hearts,” before shipping them to some of the most poverty stricken places in Africa, including Zambia, the Congo, and South Africa.
“[Amy Berman] sends a note to acknowledge your contribution,” Memmel said, “with a letter, and a photograph, and a postcard of a child holding a bear. I have about six different ones, with children holding different bears and big smiles on their faces.”
Those who want to participate in the Mother Bear project can download a sewing pattern from the website, MotherBearProject. org, or order a complete knit or crochet kit. From one simple pattern, truly unique bears are created, reflecting the individuality of the knitter who created it. The project is run year-round, but many knitters make an extra push during the Christmas season.
“It’s fun to do, it’s something like this,” Memmel said, adding that “I do it while I’m watching television. It makes you feel good about yourself. You’ll know that this little piece of wool is going to make someone happy.”
“To us, it’s nothing,” Memmel said, “but to these children, it’s a very big deal.”