Millions of people around the world were feeling helpless watching Ukrainian mothers and children saying good-bye to fathers, as the men headed off to war on and after February 24th, when the Russian Ukrainian war began.
Since that time, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sellwood, the Milwaukie Community Center, and the Ukrainian Bible Church in Fairview have helped with a Teddy Bear project that is uplifting the spirits of some in Inner Southeast Portland.
"The idea came at the end of February, watching images of Ukrainian children holding their mothers' hands, walking away from their fathers," Nanci Shaughnessy told THE BEE.
Shaughnessy, who ran "Tendergarden Preschool" in Southeast Portland for nine years, and is currently an adult caregiver, has a tender heart and felt a burning passion to comfort some of those Ukrainian children.
When she saw the children on television reports, she flashed back in time and remembered the Teddy Bear that was a treasure to her preschool children over those nine years. She knows, from many years of experience with preschoolers and with her own children, that a Teddy Bear can provide comfort as much as a live pet can bring calm and contentment to a child or adult.
"I rummaged around, and found the [treasured preschool] Teddy Bear. I thought it would be just the right size for Ukrainian children."
On March 8th, Shaughnessy shared her idea with her daughter Chyanna, granddaughter Bri, and her friend and Reed neighborhood resident Alice Hiser. They all shared her enthusiasm for the project.
Then Shaughnessy went to the Milwaukie Community Center to talk with her longtime friend Jeanette Stout, who volunteers in the gift shop there, and is an excellent seamstress. "I have this passion. I want to make Teddy Bears," she told Stout.
"You have such a big heart, how can I say no?" responded Jeanette. Nanci showed her the preschool's Teddy Bear. Jeanette found a pattern online and then on March 12th she called Nanci. "Do you want to come see?"
"[I went there and] and my heart leaped," reports Nanci. "The Teddy Bear was just what I had imagined. Jeanette had sown a beautiful Teddy Bear, and I said, 'How can we do this'?"
From there the project took off, involving over fifty Inner Southeast Portland women who knew how to sew — or who didn't know anything about sewing, but could make runs to fabric stores, deliver the fabric, cut the fabric, sew on the eyes, assemble sewing kits, or knit or crotchet scarves for the bears' necks.
Jeanette has the intricate job of making all of the bears' heads. Nanci is the project coordinator and official "cutter" of the fabric.
The project has grown by word of mouth — "people to people" — using no social media. Signs with information for potential volunteers were made and posted. One such poster wound up at a community center in Mission Viejo California, near Los Angeles, where Alice Hiser has relatives. A resident there, Donna, became involved in the project, and has hand-sewn heads to bodies by the dozens and sent them to Portland by U.S. mail.
Amy, from Michigan, was sent a photo of the volunteer sign, and she and her family began making bears, and then recently she flew to Portland to visit the volunteers and deliver bears.
When 47 teddy bears were completed on April 28th, Hiser contacted the Ukrainian Church, and the one in Fairview facilitated the shipment of the first group of bears that were included in a shipment of medical supplies going into Ukraine.
Since then, the war has escalated, so the most recent 50 bears will be sent to a refugee camp in Poland on a container ship and will take more than a month to arrive. The church in Fairview is packing and shipping those bears in boxes with clothing and medicine. "We're looking for shippers all of the time," remark Nanci and Alice.
"It is very humbling," Nanci muses. "I started with a broken heart for those children. And so many people here were just waiting to do something [helpful]. The gray, brown-and-tan bears are nubby and huggable, and Jeanette has made all of the faces with smiles. They are so lovable, you have to hug and touch them."
"We now have 125 finished bears, and some are ready to complete — for a total of 350 still in Portland. We asked ourselves at the beginning, 'What if we can do 500?'" She says it looks as if that goal may be met, and will be exceeded if there is help from others joining the project.
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