Irish charity has US moms making toys for Russian orphans

An Irish charity has spearheaded an initiative to deliver handmade teddy bears to Russian orphans, writes Arlene Harris

Irish charity has US moms making toys for Russian orphans

THE Irish charity To Russia with Love (TRWL) has bridged international relations by encouraging American women to make toys for thousands of orphans in Russia.

Moved by TRWL’s animated YouTube film depicting a little girl, Anya, and her bear, Pascha, Allison Hoffman, from Texas, made a bear and sent it to TRWL’s head, Debbie Deegan, who passed it on to a Russian orphan.

Through her Facebook page, Hoffman encouraged others to do the same and hundreds of women offered to make ‘Paschas’ and send them to Russia via Ireland.

Now, people worldwide are aware of the plight of the Russian orphans and Ms Deegan says the crocheted bears brighten up so many children’s lives. “I asked Brown Bag Films to do a short advert for TRWL... I had no idea the amount of work that over 60 staff would have to undertake to do this for us. It was a mammoth task and Damien O’Connor actually travelled to Russia to get exact details, so it’s perfectly true to life,” Ms Deegan says.

“When it went live, Allison Hoffman saw it on YouTube and fell in love with the idea that Anya’s teddy could become real. She herself is very ‘crafty’, so she asked if she made one could I get it to the children and, within days, more than 100 other Americans had offered to do the same. So I promised to take them to the orphanage for them.”

The American women will make a bear for every child under the care of TRWL. The children are eagerly awaiting the delivery of the bears next month.

“The children know the whole story about the bears and are waiting for my next visit,” says Ms Deegan. “They are floating on air since we had the ‘world premiere’ of the film in their little school hall in the forest. It was a huge local event. The children felt so important and even our oldest ones came back, on the day, to watch the film. They all felt that Anya depicted their lives exactly and can’t wait for the bears to arrive in July.

“When we put this together, I never anticipated that Anya would have the impact that it has — so far, 100,000 people have watched it, between Vimeo and YouTube. But we still need all the help we can get; our children are parentless; raised in lonely orphanages and, in general, have very little love in their lives.

“So this is what we at TRWL do best — the children know we love them and this is very, very rare in orphanages, but we cannot continue without the generosity of people helping us — and, at the moment, Allison Hoffman and her crew in the US are doing something very special.”

Ms Hoffman, who is married and has three sons, says “I design and sell crochet patterns and toys for my website, craftyiscool.com, and am pretty active on Twitter (@craftyiscool). So when I saw a post about the short film, ‘Anya’, by Brown Bag Films, for To Russia with Love, I thought it was so adorable,” she says. “I got goose-bumps watching it and it was ironic, because, just days before, my husband and I had been wistfully discussing adopting a little girl someday — so I figured it was fate that I’d seen ‘Anya’.

“Thanks to the power of the internet, Damien O’Connor and I had communicated and that little encounter gave me the idea that I could do something to help,” she says. “I asked Damien if I could make a Pascha and get others to do the same. He wrote me privately and said he, and the charity, would absolutely love to be involved and sent me several photos, and the measurements Pascha would be in real life.

“Using these guidelines, I sketched out a crochet pattern and got to work on writing a pattern, which I then posted on my blog. Next, I sourced some eyes (from Etsy) for the bears and purchased a large quantity of noses, and said I would provide sets of eyes and a nose to the first 60 people who signed up via email.”

Hundreds have volunteered from the US, Canada and Europe and Hoffman hopes that others will do the same.

“To Russia with Love touches my heart because, being a mother, I feel exceptionally close to my children,” she says. “I just can’t imagine being without them and feel like the work TRWL is doing is so important. The things they are accomplishing, every day, must mean everything to these kids. So I think the idea that people all over the world are volunteering their time and resources is amazing. These people don’t know any of the children the bears are going to, but recognise a need and are doing what they can to help.”

“Each stitch represents a moment in time, which is pretty cool and something like this just couldn’t have come about before the internet. It just shows how we’re all connected now and can come together to do things like this. Making Pascha bears won’t change the world, but it will, hopefully, bring a little smile to a child’s face. And that really matters.”

Allison is offering tutorials to help volunteers to get involved — so if you would like to learn how to make a Pascha bear for a Russian orphan, check out her website.

Watch Anya here:

If you would like to help To Russia With Love to continue changing lives of orphaned and abandoned children, visit www.torussiawithlove.ie. Or text HUG to 50300 and DONATE €4.

For instructions on making a Pascha bear, visit www.craftyiscool.com.

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