By Scott Shurtleff
AYER -- Heidi Creighton just sent out her first 100 hugs to detained children in Texas.
The hugs are disguised as teddy bears and will, according to Creighton, "bring love and comfort to the kids who are separated from their family." Her small and young organization, Teddy Bear Hugs, collects the stuffed bears from around the community then mails them out for redispersement to children who are caught in the immigration quagmire along the border.
"Kids need to be hugged and touched," she said. "They are trapped in a nightmare and need to be calmed." Her motives are not political nor aimed at affecting public opinion or policy. Rather, she wants to do her part from the most basic level of humanity which is to provide a sense of security for the most vulnerable people. "Teddy bears are universally recognizable sources of consolation," she said.
Originally limited to a single drop-off point at her home, Creighton has, in the month since she launched her efforts, arranged for several other places to accept the new or lightly used bears. Four of those local places are in Harvard at the post office and faith centers, the Congregational Church and St. Theresa's, along with the newest location, Unitarian Universalist Church. There is also a donation basket on the North Shore with many more in the works.
Creighton stressed that for now, only teddy bears are sought, which come in many versions including Pooh bears, pink, black, white and rainbow from pocket-sized to life-sized. No two bears are alike but all are liked. Limiting to only bears helps the kids at the receiving end avoid the feeling of envy or unfairness that may arise if one gets a stuffed giraffe while another gets a less cuddly one like an armadillo, for example.
She estimates that nearly 1,000 bears have been donated already with a goal number that is still unclear. The number of children in need continues to grow so the number of bears to hug will need to grow accordingly. The first bears from the Nashoba Valley are scheduled to arrive in McAllen, Texas this week and they will be in need of a child's hug to welcome them.
The distribution process from there is a multi-step network of participating volunteer organizations. The shipment connection is from one valley (Nashoba) to another, the Rio Grande Valley where the food bank there will transfer the bears to the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center. From there, border patrol personnel will unite the bears with the children.
The process on this end is much simpler. Just pilfer a teddy from your child's toy box -- they will never miss it -- then transport it to a local donation center. Before dropping it into the box, give it a hug. That hug will be delivered to the recipient on the other end.
The bears are the latest in an ongoing series of humanitarian aid being sent to the children and their families. That list includes legal assistance, food, toys clothing, money, diapers and a litany of other things from prayers to toiletries. While the public and political confusion gets sorted out, the struggle remains real and relentless for those caught in the web. Amid the heat and intensity in tent city, lonely children pine for parents or some sort of tender interaction to soothe the despair.
Creighton's small but dedicated team of volunteers continues to seek out new locations and of course new donors. One partner is Andree Buckley. She is building the website, teddybearhugs.org, where people can find out where to donate and how to follow the bears along their 2,186 mile journey. Buckley got involved "because something needs to be done. It's sad what those children are going through and it's an easy way to help. I can give them a hug from afar."
Creighton, a parent herself, said "I'd feel heartbroken and helpless if I knew my child was scared and lonely and that I couldn't help her. It is unimaginable."