For Mary Fischer and her daughters, knitting bears for Mother Bear Project is a family affair. Her daughter, Jane, often joins her for evenings of knitting in her Milwaukee home.
"We compare yarn color choices and how to make the faces," Mary said. "In fact, she keeps her bear-making materials at my house because it's the one place where she does not have any other duties distracting her."
It was on a visit from her home near Dubuque, Iowa, that Mary's daughter, Kate, first discovered Mother Bear Project.
"I came across an issue of Simply Knitting magazine and spotted the project," Kate said. "I bought the pattern from the Mother Bear website and made two. When I returned to Milwaukee some weeks later, mom and I agreed this was a project we’d like to take on."
Since then, Mary and her daughters have made piles of bears.
"There’s something about the project that is magnetizing,” Mary said. “My daughters and I put them in baskets around my living room and we forget whose is whose. They just become all our sweeties."
Kate, like her mother, has always enjoyed knitting, but finds special purpose in the project as it has brings her family together.
"At this stage in our lives, too, it gives my mom and me an activity we share with such joy," Kate said. "Now that my sister, Jane, is also knitting bears, we have a blast comparing the ears (Jane makes great ones), noses (mom's are terrific), and attempts to hide stitches (I'm working on this). I am amazed that a single activity could so bind three women whose lives are really tremendously different in other ways."
The Fischer ladies have also spread the word about Mother Bear Project around their community. Kate started a charity knitting group in Dubuque, Iowa, and the group has spent some time making Mother Bears.
"I've also seen my mom telling anyone who comes into her house - the couple who cleans, the guy who trims trees, and the postman - about the project and also encouraging them to donate," Kate said. "Who would have known we'd become such hucksters on behalf of Mother Bear!"
When Kate visits her mother in Milwaukee, she packs up the bears into boxes and heads to the post office.
"I leave the boxes un-taped and the postal worker, upon seeing the bears, always smiles at the shipment,” she said. “When I last mailed bears, another woman stopped me and asked about the project. She admitted she wasn’t a knitter, but wished she could help. Before I knew it, I was writing down the website for her and encouraging her to donate via PayPal."
In Mary's home, Mother Bears do not just fill the baskets in her living room, but she keeps photos of the children who receive the bears around her house - on the refrigerator, on the organ, on the mantel.
"I change them around just as I do with my kids and grandkids," she said.
Kate finds joy in the knowledge that the simple task she shares with her mother and sister will bring joy to children far away, and let them know someone cares.
"My hope is that others will either donate to the cause or pick up needles and create bears," Kate said. "I love seeing how immediately people respond to the bears, but more importantly, to the needs of children.”
Mary had 11 children of her own, and now her kids and grandkids are spread all across the country. She has always loved children, and putting a smile on their faces, which has been her primary draw to Mother Bear Project.
"I get a cozy feeling knowing that this bear will find its way to one particular special child," Mary said. "Before packing them into the box, I give a wish to each bear for the child who receives it: 'Go, sweet bear. Make a little boy or little girl smile for at least a little while.' And then I send my love along, too."