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"Sending love around the world: 93-year-old knots 100 bears for children affected by HIV/AIDS" Herald Times Reporter (htrnews.com)
February 26, 2009
By Cindy Hodgson
MANITOWOC — Somewhere in Africa, 100 children have a hand-knit bear they can call their friend thanks to Manitowoc resident Phyllis Schmidt.
The 93-year-old recently completed her 100th bear for Mother Bear Project, a non-profit organization that distributes the hand-knit and crocheted bears primarily to children in Africa who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Some have the disease themselves, and some have lost parents to it.
"Now I'm starting on my second 100," Schmidt said.
She read about Mother Bear Project in the November 2007 edition of Guideposts magazine and began making the bears after Thanksgiving that year.
The project was just the right fit for Schmidt.
"I started knitting about 70 years ago," she said.
Schmidt has knit sweaters, mittens, scarves, afghans, toy monkeys, dolls — you name it, she probably has knit it. She used to bring her products to craft fairs, she said. And it wasn't all knitting; she also sewed and sold a number of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.
.She was knitting sweaters for children through a different organization when she read about Mother Bear Project. It was just the right fit for her. Not only does she have extensive knitting experience, she also has been collecting stuffed bears for about 20 years. Even though she has given away around 50 of them, she still has about 100 stuffed bears in her collection, she said.
Schmidt decided to turn her efforts from sweaters to bears.
"This is more fun," she said.
She tries to make the color and pattern different for each bear as much as she can, and their faces seem to come out slightly different even without her trying, she said.
Having a chance "to send a little comfort and happiness to some children is wonderful," Schmidt said.
The bears, made according to a pattern provided by Mother Bear Project, are filled with a washable fiberfill that stays soft upon washing, Schmidt said.
"I knit for hours a day," she said.
Schmidt said she stays home except for medical appointments, and knitting is a good pastime.
All of her knitting is devoted to the bears these days, and she is able to make two of them in a week, or three if she really works at it, she said.
Schmidt sends the stuffed animals to Mother Bear Project, which attaches a red felt heart to each of them. She also signs her name to a tag that says "With love, Mother Bear."
The project so far has distributed 36,900 bears to children in Africa and Haiti, according to the organization's Web site, www.motherbearproject .org.
Having made 100 of them, Schmidt is now a member of the "100 Bear Club." As such, she received a congratulatory letter from the organization's founder as well as a pin made in Africa.
The letter gives two examples of the impact the bears have on the children who receive them.
One boy risked his life to rescue his bear from a collapsing building. He said "it had a heart on it and it meant someone loved me," according to the letter.
A girl dying of AIDS asked to be buried with her bear because "it is my only friend," the letter says.
Schmidt said she intends to keep making the bears as long as she can.
"I set out to make 100," she said. "That was my goal. Now I'm going to try to make another 100."
Cindy Hodgson: (920) 686-2966 or email@example.com