From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Operation Teddy Bear

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.

Edward Everett Hale

I was driving the children to school when I first heard the news. My initial thoughts were that it was a small plane that had undoubtedly caused damage, but it was early and surely there were not many people at work yet.

I thought How awful, and I hoped that there were no fatalities. Then I put it out of my mind. To be honest, I was too busy wallowing in my own pity to dwell on something that happened so far away from my little world in a tiny town in Tennessee. My husband was out of work nearly a month now and still he had found nothing. We were so far behind on bills I doubted we would ever dig out of that hole. I had made an appointment to see if I could get state assistance just to put food on the table for our three children. I was missing my mother, who had passed away in 1997, and had no one to share my woes. I remember thinking that things couldn’t get much worse.

I made it back home, and after tidying up the house a bit, I settled in to nurse the baby and catch a bit of television. The images that flashed across the screen on every channel horrified me. I went from shock and disbelief to absolute horror, then came the anger, and finally I just went numb. I had cried for hours and hours and couldn’t sleep at all that night. All my petty thoughts of debt and self-pity were gone. True, I was in the same predicament that I had been in hours earlier, but that seemed somehow trivial in the face of such tragedy. So many lives, so much destruction and an entire nation in mourning. Who cares if the car payment is made? I sat in my bed that night and I cried. I cried for the mothers who lost their children, and for the firefighters, EMTs and police who paid the ultimate price in the name of service. I cried for the children who lost their parents. I cried for our nation, and I cried for my children. I cried because I was fortunate enough to have a home and bed to go to that night and because my children, husband and family were all safe and sound. I cried out of fear that we may go to war and my children would have to be raised during war time. I cried until no more tears came.

The next morning I went through the usual motions of getting the children ready for school. They asked very few questions about the previous day’s events, but the few they did ask started me thinking.

“Why did God make bad people, Mommy?” asked my six-year-old.

“God didn’t make them bad, honey,” was my mumbled response. Thankfully that appeased him.

“Mom, can’t we go and help them?” my eleven-year-old pleaded.

“Oh baby, I wish that we could, but it is so far away and we just don’t have any money to send,” came my shame-filled reply.

Once the children were in school, their questions continued to flutter in my mind. Why? Why? WHY? I didn’t have any answers, only more questions of my own. I stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up diapers, and while there, I saw some red, white and blue ribbon. It was only forty-four cents for a roll, so I figured I could afford that much to show my support for those who were dealing with such horror. I made unity ribbons for the entire family and even had enough ribbon to make a few extra that I carried to the school and gave to the teachers. That night my daughter removed her ribbon and pinned it to her favorite teddy bear, I assumed for safe-keeping. Then to my surprise she brought the bear over to me and said, “Mommy, can I send this to New York to one of the people who were hurt?”

With tears in my eyes I said, “Sure, honey, I think we could do that.” From there the wheels began to turn in my head. Why couldn’t we do that? I thought I could collect bears and attach a unity ribbon and a handwritten message to each one to send to New York City and Washington, D.C. I can do that! So the 911 Teddy Bear Brigade (Operation Bear Hugs) was born.

I got on my computer, and I told as many people as I could. One of the online groups called “Mom writers” was especially supportive. This group of mothers is one of the most compassionate group of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Before I knew it, I had suggestions coming in and offer to help write a press release, and within a few days, over forty bears from around the world had been delivered to my doorstep.

Once the press release and flyers were ready, things really took off. I was interviewed first by the local paper, then on television by our local public access television show, “Tullahoma Living.” Then the newsleader Channel 6 had us on briefly. I e-mailed several network news channels, and a few of them mentioned our project. Girl Scout troops sent us bears with notes that would tear your heart out. With each new bear and every precious message attached, our hearts were filled to overflowing and we cried. Oh, how we cried.

By October 5, we had in our possession about three hundred bears. Some of them didn’t have notes, and for those we asked local fire and police departments if they wanted to write messages, and for the others we wrote them.

We have a target date of December 11, 2001, to send the bears to New York City and Washington. We don’t know how many we will end up with, but our target is five thousand.

We will be giving the bears to the volunteers. We noticed that much was being done for the victims and families, so we wanted to honor the volunteers who have worked so tirelessly, sleeping on the street and returning to work at daybreak. I cannot imagine the horror of the scene at Ground Zero, but I am so thankful for the people who are there giving so selflessly of themselves to help others. They deserve our thanks and so much more. I know you may be thinking a bear is nothing in the scheme of things, but it isn’t really the bear that counts. It is the messages attached, the love and gratitude and the simple gesture that count. The volunteers are the backbone of the rescue and clean-up efforts and should not be overlooked. I think this quote says it best: “Volunteers are NOT paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

I just wanted to show that if I can do something to help make a difference, then anyone can. I am simply a stay-at-home mommy on a tight budget. I had no money to give, but I gave what I did have: my love and eternal gratitude.

Tina Warren

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