Sandham, Chris. “Teddies for Tragedies.” Soft Dolls & Animals. August/September, 2007.

August 24, 2007 @ 3:45 PM

I have no idea where my knitting pattern for ‘Teddies for Tragedies’ originated, but because the instructions are more than a bit faded I can tell it is most definitely a copy of a copy of a copy, and predates the patterns on the two Teddies for Tragedies web sites. Faded it may well be, even so it was still sufficiently legible to make out the instructions when my daughter gave it to me.


She discovered the pattern in a knitting shop in Glasgow, Scotland, next to a basket of finished teddy bears. The pile of patterns had a notice pinned above them saying something like this, ‘Please help yourself and make as many teddies as you can for the children who need them.’ So of course Lyndsey did, she took one for herself and one for me.


    That’s how I came to photocopy even more faded versions of the pattern, to hand out to the members of our women’s sewing/knitting group Sew’n Sew, and they all agreed to knit some teddies in their spare time. That’s how easy it was for me to get involved with Teddies for Tragedies. Over the next few months the collection of teddies grew. So far so good! I just had to find a way to get them to the children.


Just as I was about to give up, I read an article in our local paper about an orphanage in Cambodia that had been started by a Skelmersdale charity ‘Children of the Dump.’ I couldn’t believe my luck, I never expected to find anywhere so near home that might be able to take the teddy bears. From there on all it took was a phone call to Jenny Bullen secretary of the   charity, who was very happy to accept the first collection of teddies; since then Jenny turns up regularly at meetings, just before her next trip to Cambodia to collect the teddies. 


‘Tricia Smith kind of fell into Teddies for Tragedies as well, she told me, “In the late 1990s I knitted teddies for a local church appeal. I can’t remember exactly where they went. When the Asian Tsunami occurred, I remembered them and thought it would be a great idea to send teddies. Scouring the Internet I found but one address, to which I sent our local knitted teddies; but then I investigated further. Realising there was no network for Teddies for Tragedies, the site was launched, truthfully —  relaunched, because someone had put a site up a couple of years previously, but only managed to fill her spare bedroom with teddies. She had nowhere to send them. I took the name over, wanting to get knitters in contact with needers. It only needs a little co-ordination.


I asked ‘Tricia, Where do the bears go?


“Teddies go everywhere. At home they have been used by the emergency services as instant comfort/distraction for small children caught up in accidents. Abroad, just look at the pictures of the little children receiving them and add millions of similar happy smiling faces. The next email I am about to write is to someone in Australia wanting help to get teddies to children ‘down under.' This is a global movement.


 “Often they are sent in 10s rather than 100s. The most difficult part of the triangle is delivery. Plenty of knitters, plenty of children who would love a teddy, but how to get the two together? Many teddies go in airline baggage. The ‘Send-a-cow’ charity took teddies to give to the children when their parents were receiving more useful, but less interesting (from the child’s point of view) gifts.


“Not every child who would love a teddy is tragic. A poor child anywhere, an unhappy child any day has the right to a comforting teddy.”


This is how her home page opens, “Teddies for Tragedies is not a registered charity, it has no central organisation, no rules, regulations, or subscription fees. It is just a knitting (and

crochet) pattern.”


‘Tricia’s website is packed with information, pictures of happy little children receiving teddy bears, the all important pattern to knit or crochet, (UK version) and lots of good advice. There is a page of safety regulations. This is required reading. Here you will find  recommendations about materials, the type of yarn not to use, filling your teddy, stitching him/her together, and facial features. There is also a list of postal charges and weights. An FAQ page answering questions such as: Can teddies be any colour? How big is a teddy? Even a compliments slip that you can print out and put in with your teddy bears. In addition to all this the site carries links to other organisations that help children.


If you have problems sending your teddies to children take a look in the site at the Teddy Travels page, maybe you will find inspiration there.  


On her web site ‘Tricia says, “A teddy hasn’t fulfilled its purpose until it has been loved by a child. If you hear of a volunteer, charity ambassador, or an aid shipment, maybe you can persuade them to pack a few teddies. If you do remember to tell us so the story can be added to Teddy Travels.”


Then she adds this advice, “If you are knitting teddies or wanting to start, please email. Include a postcode and I might know of a local collector and a telephone number for quick contact if there is urgent need for teddies. If you’ve been knitting or collecting teddies for years, you don’t need this site, but there may be a knitter close to you who wants to help. Unless I know who you are, I can’t put you in touch.


  “Don’t knit 100s of teddies without thinking of where they are going. The network grows only when knitters and distributors of teddies contact the site. Do make contact through thisemail address to tell me you have some, if we don’t know who you are we can’t help find homes for you.


“Help make Teddies for Tragedies more well known, so that every volunteer and aid worker will take some with them when they travel. When I first started this I didn’t know exactly where it would go, but I’m happy to reply to each individual knitter and point them in the right direction. Eight teddies weigh less than a kilo. So what’s stopping you? We can do it. There are plenty of willing knitters and crocheters.”


Teddies for Tragedies Canada was created by Gisele M Toth, and has over 400 volunteers hailing from Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe. To-date they have sent thousands of bears to children in Mexico, Lebanon, Romania, Costa Rica, Brazil and many more ‘hot spots.’


Gisele’s website has this to say of their work, “Our goals are simple. When tragedy strikes somewhere in the world, the first members of society to suffer are the children. We created the Canadian chapter of Teddies for tragedies in the hope of alleviating some of the stress that prevails when these catastrophes occur. We also wanted to contribute to the community at large and perhaps make a difference.


“A ball of wool and needles, a few hours spent on a craft you love, and your creation could influence a child for the rest of his or her life.”


I asked Gisele Toth how the teddies are collected and sent to the children.


“Our teddies, here in Ontario, Canada, are distributed through Operation Christmas Child, and in the past few years we have collected on average between 5,000- 8,000 bears per year.


  “Gwen Smith is our ‘drop-off’ volunteer. Most of the teddies are delivered or mailed to

her. She sorts them into large bags, then calls our distribution centre to pick up the bears. These get packaged up into shoe boxes during the latter part of fall, and they all get shipped out before Christmas.


“We do not handle any cash - everyone involved is a volunteer. Women’s groups do the knitting, and lots of individuals knit bears too. Some of them are in their nineties in nursing homes, and they all keep busy. Lots of wool and materials are donated as well, so we will always have a supply of teddies to be shipped where they are needed most.


“How big are the teddies?”


“We require our teddies to be approximately the same size, about 10 inches long, so they will fit into the shoe boxes. Some people knit the bears so that they are the same, yet different, by using different coloured wool for the body parts. I have received purple-faced teddies. It is fun to see what people dream up to make each teddy different from the others.”


“Can you tell me about some of the women who make the teddies?


“We have one group of women who meet once a week to knit teddies, and socialise at St John’s Anglican Church in Toronto. I have picked up a ton of bears from them through the years. This group alone produced over 2,500 bears since they started. While visiting them I always get treated to a lunch of sandwich, salad and coffee. Great bunch of women. Pastor Paul brought his teddy to visit one day, just to show off that he has one too.”


In addition to the teddy bear knit or crochet pattern (US version) the site has a mailing address page, children’s pictures with teddies, News updates, International thank you pages and newspaper articles about Teddies for Tragedies.


One article ‘The Great Healing Power of Little Teddy Bears’ published in The Toronto Star, 20 June 1999, tells the story of Daphne King aged 71 who was born in Suffolk, East Anglia, England, but has lived in Meaford, Ontario, Canada for 14 years.


Daphne began knitting the bears after her friend Val Thomas learned about the project during a visit to the United Kingdom. Val asked Daphne if she would like to knit a few teddies. Daphne managed to produce 50 bears. These went to an orphanage in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1998, after this Daphne and her group knitted another 140 teddies for the orphanage in Lebanon, then 200 more were sent to Romania.


“The simple fact of being able to have something as comforting, cuddly and soft as a teddy bear always with you, something of your own to keep and cherish has proven to hasten healing in year-old to 3- to 4- year old children. The doctors involved have observed and documented this phenomenon which is particularly effective with young orphans. ‘Better than medicine for many,’ was how one young Sudanese doctor summed it up.” The Toronto Star.


At the time Daphne King said, “There’s no quota or deadlines for our volunteers. Those who do it love it. It makes such a difference to the children in need.”


One of the biggest problems I encountered when we began to make the teddies was finding a way to send them to the children who needed them most. As luck would have it, I did manage to discover a charity nearby that was happy to accept our teddies. When I think of this, I wonder how many teddies would be languishing away for want of a child to love them without people like ‘Tricia Smith, Gisele Toth and Gwen Smith to take care of all the practical details, while the rest of us carry on with the most enjoyable, the making part of the unique little bears that have given comfort to countless children world wide, and all because of one simple knitting pattern.