San Francisco Chronicle
From the article "Syrian refugee children get 5,000 teddy bears, thanks to SF woman"
When San Francisco resident Samantha Grier sees photos of Syrian children in refugee camps half a world away, the images take her back to her childhood in New Jersey, a period she remembers for the neglect and loneliness she endured.
Her mother was hustling to open a children’s clothing store and her father was off working long hours as a shoe salesman. Grier was often left on her own with a black-and-white teddy bear named Gookie that provided her a source of comfort and companionship in times of solitude.
Now, nearly 75 years later, Grier is sending 5,000 teddy bears to Syrian refugee children in Jordan through an organization she started in 1986, Caring for Children. The stuffed animals are set to be shipped sometime this month, and she hopes they will give the young recipients a sense of home and comfort as they cope with displacement, conflict, and trauma.
“I was left alone most of the day before there was child care, daycare, or even television, with no companionship but my trusty teddy bear. The first thing it does for the children is calm them down,” said Grier, who is in her 80s. “It feels like their mother. It feels comforting.”
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The Jefferson Award
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — For many children, a teddy bear is more just a toy. It’s a soft, furry friend – a confidant, bringing solace to a child who is lonely or hurting in some way. That comfort is something of a familiar to Samantha Grier. For the past 32 years, the psychiatric social worker has distributed 200,000 bears for free, as part of her nonprofit Caring for Children.
Just in the last year, Caring for Children completed bear distribution to Syrian refugees in Jordan, and impoverished families in Mexico.
In all of her travels around the world, Grier says she has seen firsthand how the bears have soothed kids facing all types of trauma, everything from abuse and neglect to the ravages of war.
“I’m interested in making the child happy, more fulfilled, more able to cope with their difficult circumstances,” said Grier.
But Grier has also shared her teddy bears locally. Recently, at Compass Family Services in San Francisco, Grier shared the free bears and smiles of dozens of children as each selected a teddy bear of their own. Squeals of delight could be heard throughout the facility’s playground as the kids embraced their new furry friends.
It was a sight that also warmed the heart of Compass Family Service spokesman Stacy Webb, who pointed out that many of the kids his organization serves are homeless or in extreme poverty.
“Having something that is consistent with them all the time is important,” explained Webb. “A lot of our kids don’t see the same person very often for very long.”
Teddy bears have long represented comfort for Grier as well. As a child, she says she felt alone as her parents worked long hours to build their business. An older relative gave Grier a teddy bear to ease her loneliness.
Grier says that small, yet profound gesture, changed her life. “My parents, for economic and other reasons, were really not available,” she said. “My teddy bear was my friend and I was very comforted by it.”
Today, Grier has made it her life’s mission to put teddy bears into the hands of as many children as she can. She has trained teachers, police, and parents on how they, too, can use the bears to calm anxious hearts. Through it all, Grier has had one simple message: “What I’m trying to do one child at a time is make the world a better place.”