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Group Seeks Teddy Bears for Military Kids

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2003 – It's not easy being a kid whose mom or dad is deployed overseas to a combat zone. It can be confusing and lonely, and sometimes, downright scary.

That's why a California-based nonprofit group wants to put into every affected military child's hands that quintessentially American yet internationally understood symbol of comfort and friendship: the teddy bear.

Operation TeddyCare, the labor of love of a disabled Vietnam veteran and his wife, already has donated 2,500 teddy bears to military children of deployed service members. Each bear, presented through military family service centers, comes with a personalized certificate of appreciation "for being brave and helpful while your parent served in the line of duty."

Family service centers are so enthusiastic about the program that they've already requested another 6,500 teddy bears -- but Operation TeddyCare has no bears left to donate.

"We've gotten to the point where we are flat-out of teddy bears," said Barbara Moran, who runs the program with her husband, psychologist Dr. Bob Baker. "And if there's one word in our vocabulary we hate when we get requests from military bases," Moran said, "it's 'no.'"

To help meet increasing requests for teddy bears, Operation TeddyCare is soliciting donations of teddy bears as well as checks to purchase teddy bears and cover the cost of printing certificates of appreciation and shipping.

Moran and Baker go to great lengths to get teddy bears to military children. At once point, they drove two carloads of bears from their home near San Francisco to Camp Pendleton, Calif., when Operation TeddyCare had run too low on shipping funds to mail the requested bears.

"It's a wonderful thing they're doing," said Hugh Cooper, deputy assistant chief of staff for community services at the base. "The kids here really appreciated getting the bears."

"They were a big hit," echoed Robin Colangelo, family readiness coordinator for the Air National Guard in Phoenix, who presented teddy bears to children of the 161st Air Refueling Wing.

"Operation TeddyCare is such a nice program, because it recognizes that kids share in the hardships when their parents are deployed," said Colangelo. "It's especially hard on the very young ones, because they really don't understand what's going on."

Moran said Operation TeddyCare is committed to recognizing these children's sacrifices. "Military children are expected to be extraordinary -- to be brave, to do their homework, to do their chores, and to handle the stress of their parent being away from home," Moran said. "Operation TeddyCare is a way to express appreciation to these kids, and to tell them, 'You're being a great kid.'"

But Moran said the teddy bears convey more than just appreciation. "Teddy bears are all about comfort," she said. "They're good listeners, and they're nice to hold. They're so associated with America, with comfort, with friendship, and with both celebrations and consolations.

"We all know that when the going gets tough, it really helps to hug a teddy bear."

Baker recognized the therapeutic power of teddy bears in his practice as clinical coordinator of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where he worked until his retirement.

Since then, he and Moran continue to spread those healing powers. Since 1995, Operation TeddyCare has distributed more than 30,000 teddy bears donated by local citizens to counselors, police, firefighters and other emergency workers. They, in turn, present the bears to children affected by conflicts, war, violence, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, accidents or life-threatening illness.

The effort has moved into high gear during crises, beginning in 1995 when Operation TeddyCare sent teddy bears to children in Kobe, Japan, after a 6.9 magnitude earthquake left almost 5,500 people dead. Since then, Operation TeddyCare has donated teddy bears for children affected by the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center attacks, and most recently, Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Moran said she's even heard from service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, asking if there was a way to get teddy bears for the local children.

"I guess you could say we've become the Red Cross of teddy bears," she said.

To contribute, send teddy bears or checks to: Operation TeddyCare, Suite Q, 80 N. Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019. Designate contributions "For military kids." For more information about the program, visit http://teddycare.coastside.net .

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Cpl. Darrel James from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., holds his daughter and her Operation TeddyCare teddy bear after returning from Iraq. Marine Corps photo by Susan Bungard   
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