Community Education

Hundreds of teddy bears on way from Peninsula High to Ukraine

Posted on February 8th, 2023 By:

How do you pack more than 700 teddy bears for a trip roughly halfway around the world to the middle of a war zone?

Answer: With loving care and messages of encouragement.

Peninsula High School Kiwanis Key Club members collected teddy bears over the winter for children in war-torn Ukraine. The club is partnering with a nonprofit in Ukraine, Voices of Children, to deliver the stuffed toys.

A student tosses a teddy bear during a Peninsula High School Key Club work party on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Club members prepared hundreds of bears for shipping to children impacted by war in Ukraine. Christina T Henry

Gesture of support

Students pinned a message to Ukrainian children to each teddy bear.

“We send our love and prayers in each teddy bear for the children of Ukraine and hope our friendship and support keep you safe and protected in these dark times,” the message reads in part.

When the club launched the project in November, a representative of Voices of Children said the bears would provide psychological support to children impacted by the war. The bears are not just cuddly toys, but also as gestures solidarity from the world at large.

“Having the support of different kinds from abroad helps us to feel not alone,” said Elzara Halimova, the organization’s partnership manager.

The students and their advisors had a packing party Tuesday to prepare the bears for shipment later this month. Their final collection event is Saturday, Feb. 18, at Uptown Gig Harbor.

A tag attached to each bear reads: “This teddy bear is dedicated to the children of Ukraine. We, the students and advisors of the Peninsula High School Key Club, express our profound respect and admiration to all who are facing the darkness that has engulfed the people of your country. We send our love and prayers in each teddy bear for the children of Ukraine and hope our friendship and support keep you safe and protected in these dark times.” Christina T Henry

Community steps up

On Tuesday, bags upon bags of bears crammed the classroom where the club meets.

“I’m just blown away by looking at this room right now and seeing all these teddy bears,” said Carolyn Gutmann, a teacher and Key Club advisor.Just the outpouring from the community.”

Students have collected teddy bears at community events and collection stations throughout Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula.

Some folks stepped up big time. An anonymous donor gave 500 Build-a-Bear teddy bears. Kirk and Nancy Taft of Gig Harbor, owners of the Teddy Bear Ranch, donated more than 100 vintage collectable Ty Beanie Babies dating back to 1999. Residents of the Franke Tobey Jones Assisted Living Center in Tacoma donated 35 bears and $780 toward the cause.

Expectations exceeded

In addition to collecting bears, the club has raised nearly $2,000 in donations, which will likely exceed their estimated shipping cost. The extra money will go to continue the effort, said Spencer Abersold, a Key Club advisor who first pitched the teddy bear collection idea to the students.

“It has exceeded my expectations. It has been a grand endeavor,” Abersold said. “The students just latched onto this with gusto. … This will be something that they are going to remember for the rest of their life.”

“I don’t think anybody really fully understood the full magnitude of what was going to happen, said Key Club member Ella Fong. “But then when we walked into the classroom today, there were so many bears. There’s hundreds of bears, and I didn’t realize we had that many. So, I think it’s really awesome that everyone came together.”

The Peninsula High School Key Club collected more than 700 teddy bears for children impacted by war in Ukraine. Courtesy: Peninsula High School Key Club Peninsula High School Key Club

A long, harsh winter

It’s been nearly a year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Territories in the east have been hardest hit. But other areas of the country, including the capital Kyiv and port city Odesa, have felt the brunt of Russian attacks.

Russian assaults on the country’s power grid have caused widespread power outages throughout the winter. On Feb. 6, Al Jazeera reported that repair crews were working around the clock to restore power in Odesa after a fire left thousands without power.

The international community has denounced the Russian incursion. Aid for Ukraine, including from the U.S., has amplified over the winter.

Ukrainian forces on Monday remained in control in the village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region, according to Al Jazeera. It’s the last part of Luhansk held by Ukraine.

Teddy bear packing frenzy

The Key Club students on Tuesday formed an assembly line. They clipped tags, cut and tied ribbon in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, and attached a note of encouragement on each bear.

Key Club member Gabe Kim admitted he first joined the effort as a way to rack up volunteer hours required for graduation. But as the project progressed over the past few months, his perspective has changed.

“I think that this is a really good cause, because it’s kind of a humanitarian effort,” Kim said. “I think these volunteer hours, they kind of feel more valuable to me than other types of volunteer hours because I feel like they’re really doing something good.”

Twenty cardboard boxes remained to be filled, and the clock was ticking. The students had just two hours before a trailer on loan from Kiwanis Club of Gig Harbor — a partner sponsor of the club — would arrive to collect the bears.

“We are under the gun. We only have time against us,” Abersold said.

‘I want to see how far they can go’

The club is working with an international shipping company, AEC Parcel Service, through which it connected with Voices of Children. A trailer will take the bears to Seattle later this month to begin their long journey, expected to take four to six weeks at minimum.

About an hour into the packing party, the pace quickened with students tossing bears to Abersold, who laid them in boxes.

I’m thinking about how much of a journey these bears are about to travel,” said Gabby Feinstein, Key Club president. “I don’t know how many miles. That’s a lot of math for me, but they’re going to travel across the world, and I hope to see maybe some pictures back, little kids with these bears, and I want to see how far they can go.”

Violet Portteus, Key Club vice president said she felt proud members have taken their mission as “servant leaders” outside the boundaries of the community and to an international level.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine what these kids are going through because we really have no idea,” Portteus said. “But I hope that this can bring at least a little bit of light and let them understand that people far away from them are thinking about them,” she said. “The whole world is thinking about them and maybe this can just be a sign of hope for them and just a little piece of encouragement.”


Still time to donate

The Key Club is collecting teddy bears and cash donations through Feb. 18. Drop-offs will be accepted at the high school’s office or the club’s classroom, the ASL classroom.

The collection is strategically timed after Valentine’s Day.

“We’re hoping that because of Valentine’s Day, people will have teddy bears they may not want or need,” Portteus said.

So much for true love.

That said, the club will host a collection from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Pavilion in Uptown Gig Harbor. Be there if you can bear it.

Last teddy bear collection

What: Teddy bears and cash donations to benefit children of Ukraine, hosted by Peninsula High School Kiwanis Key Club.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Feb. 18

Where: The Pavilion, Uptown Gig Harbor

Peninsula High School Key Club members Izzy Morin (left) and Gabby Feinstein (club president) prepare teddy bears for shipping to children impacted by war in Ukraine. Christina T Henry