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From Newsday.com: Saturday June 11, 2011 5:07 PM By T.C. McCarthy
Photo credit: Frank Posillico
Manhasset’s Sue Lucarelli was teaching her fourth grade class at The Churchill School in lower Manhattan, four miles north of Ground Zero, on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks. Her primary focus was consoling her distraught students, and she turned to the only tools she had -- three teddy bears. “One little boy said, ‘All I know is, I need a hug,’ ” she remembered. Lucarelli happened to keep the bears in her classroom, so she used them to make sure everybody got a hug.
“I told the kids that if they were able to share on that day I’d make sure they all got bears.”
And they did.
Lucarelli, with the help of Community Reformed Church in Manhasset, ended up providing each of her students and more than 58,000 New York City children with teddy bears in the weeks following the terror attacks. She then started Hugs Across America later in 2001 to brighten up the days of other distressed children across the United States. On Saturday, Lucarelli was at the organization’s annual Teddy Bear Picnic at the church to raise money for Hugs.
The program now has 200 chapters across 36 states -- a Milwaukee chapter just sent 300 teddies to Joplin, Mo., to console young victims of the tornado that destroyed their town three weeks ago. The Manhasset chapter sent 800 bears to the New York City Red Cross to go to Japan shortly after the March tsunami. The total of bears sent to children in crisis since 9/11 now tops 750,000.
The program also places bears on fire trucks and in police cars so that emergency responders will have them to give to children at traumatic times. John Runge, the administrative officer with the Plandome Fire Department, has seen firsthand the good it can do.
Last summer the Plandome Fire Department responded to a tree falling on a house, just over a little girl’s room.
“Our lieutenant, Rob Saville, came to the conclusion that she needed a hug,” he said. “He got a teddy bear, gave it to her, [and] she was brightened up with a big smile across her face.”
The teddy bears don’t just make the recipients feel good. Lucarelli remembered in the weeks following 9/11, one of her students was helping her distribute the bears she had gathered for New York City’s children. She beamed as she recalled him keeping his bear tucked under his arm as he gave out bears to others.
“The most important thing to him was holding his bear and handing bears to other kids,” she said. “It’s really a wonderful thing.”
Our annual teddy bear picnic was a raving success, with the kids having fun bouncing in the castle, climbing all over the fire truck, dancing, making crafts projects, stuffing teddy bears and eating, eating, eating! The parents had fun too ... just watching their joyful children. In addition, Hugs made enough money to provide another 1000 bears to children in crisis. A great day, indeed!
Diane Last post for Kelseys Milwaukee Hugs:
"Just spoke with State Rep Bill White's office out of Joplin and they can use any amount of teddy bears we can send for the kids that could use an extra hug affected by the tornadoes. Will be putting together a bear tagging party sometime after this weekend. Please message me if you are interested in tagging and or donating."
The city of Joplin, MO was hit by a powerful tornado on Sunday, May 22. Widespread damage from a tornado that flattened 6 1/2 miles of the City taking churches, the HS, and the top floors of a hospital in the 200 mph winds and throwing them as much as 75 miles away.
Friends and family paid tribute to victims of the Joplin tornado on Friday beginning the grim task of burying the dead as officials said the savage storm’s death toll had risen to 132 people with 156 still missing.
This is the deadliest single U.S. twister in more than six decades.
Needless to say, Hugs has sent bears …300 from National and more from chapters around the country. Perhaps this one response from a minister who received bears will help us understand what the teddies mean.
"I was in the midst of just beginning to understand the scope of the terrible storm striking Joplin--calling people in the congregation, hearing the radio news in the background, getting an emergency response center started up… beginning to get ready for what I knew would be a huge task for the thousands of people in the area. Then the phone rang --- and a wonderful woman said, 'I have bears for the children from your apartments that were destroyed--how many can you use.' I was simply overcome--here was a person from over 1,000 miles away who found out about Joplin and just wanted to help. At that moment, I really began to understand that I was not in this alone ... people really cared … people were praying ... people were prepared to do something immediately to make a difference. I immediately told the few workers who were helping ... we have help on the way ... and the spirit of this place turned from stress and anxiety to hope … we were truly not alone. Thank you, Hugs ... on May 23rd you again lived out your name, stretching your arms over 1,000 miles to a pastor struggling to understand and respond to the many needs of our hurting people, and gave a hug of comfort and presence. And the bears hadn't even left your place. God bless you!"
Rev. Tracy R. Bair,
Royal Heights United Methodist Church, Joplin, MO
Join Hugs Across America for our annual picnic benefiting children in crisis. Saturday, June 11th, 2011. 10:30 - 1:00 PM. For more details, click to see our flyer.