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Closely knit bears for a cause
By Chris Curtland
The Daily Iowan - December 16, 2009

For Emily Brink and thousands of children in Africa, happiness comes from two needles and some string.

In two years of being involved with the Mother Bear Project, the UI freshman has donated more than 30 hand-knitted bears to children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

“It lets them know there’s someone out there who cares about them,” the stitcher of eight years said.

After getting a how-to-knit kit for Christmas as a fifth-grader, she has made scarves, mittens, hats, and one dog sweater. After learning about the Mother Bear Project in a book called Knitting for Peace, 18-year-old Brink seized her first chance to knit a bear.

“The pattern was also one of the only ones in the book I could actually make,” the Bloomington, Minn., native said.

Participants mostly use their own materials, but Brink uses donations, including stuffing out of her mom’s bedspread or yarn from church rummage sales.

Each bear takes Brink approximately six to eight hours to complete, which helped her log volunteer hours for National Honor Society in high school. In her first semester of college, between balancing classes and becoming a novice women’s rower, she has made two bears.

“Sometimes, I’ll go on binges and crank out three bears in a couple weeks,” she said. “But I’ve been busy lately knitting Christmas presents,” including bears for friends and family made in their likenesses.

Though all Mother Bear Project bears come from the same pattern, founder Amy Berman said the bears are as individual as their creators. Brink makes hers unique with accessories, clothing items, and facial characteristics.

Meg Hatton’s three children each have look-alike bears made by Brink, because she baby-sits them back home in Minnesota. Hatton describes Brink as “a good soul” and thinks her endeavor is really neat.

“The kids love them,” she said, and the bears bear their resemblance. “They sleep with them every night.”

Sometimes likenesses turn out too chubby, but people generally like seeing themselves in bear form, Brink said, and she knows a child in Africa will still like them.

Since first starting in February 2003, the Mother Bear Project has donated almost 47,000 bears, getting around 2,000 a month. When Amy Berman founded the group, her initial goal was to send 100.

Now, the organization thrives because of people such as Brink, Berman said.

“This whole thing is made up of a bunch of small parts,” she said, adding their knitters range in age from 6 to a 99-year-old who has made 1,500 bears.

“Emily does her thing and everyone does their thing, and each knitter has her or his own signature on the bear,” Berman said.

Berman said she won’t be surprised when Brink, “a very dedicated Mother Bear,” makes the 100 Bear club, one of Brink’s goals.

“It’s a huge milestone,” she said, and she’s excited about getting the African beaded pin reward. “But I’m not going to stop there.”

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