When news broke earlier this month about an elementary school shooting, the entire nation turned its focus to the small town of Newtown, Connecticut.
Although it would have been easy to feel helpless about a tragic act against innocent children in a safe setting, some people, like Sharon Garrett, felt compelled to reach out and help. A collector of Teddy bears, Garrett called on her fellow parishioners at United Methodist Church to donate the stuffed bears to Newtown families impacted by the shooting.
"I was so touched by what the families were going through, and I really wanted to find a way to reach out to share God's love," Garrett said. "I wanted it to be a very concrete, personable relationship with the children and families, to let them know that people as far away as Wisconsin are praying for them."
After getting the word out in the weekly newsletter, United Methodist was able to collect 85 Teddy bears, which were blessed and hugged at the Christmas church services. Each bear will also have a heart placed around its neck with a ribbon.
As news spread about the teddy bear donation drive, church employees started to notice unfamiliar faces who do not belong to the church walking into the building with Teddy bears, placing them on church pews and quietly walking out.
"It's very warm and humbling that people are so caring," Garrett said.
After speaking with the Newtown Social Services Department, Garrett learned the town is no longer accepting Teddy bears, as it has already received more than 7,000 bears from across the country, according to the New Haven Register. Town officials are asking donors to give back to their own community in honor of the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Garrett plans to send one bear to Newtown, along with a note explaining that the remaining 84 bears will be donated to a local Milwaukee organization, which will be announced in the future.
"Other communities have had the same idea, so they are asking everyone to share the Teddy bears locally in memory of those lost and in honor of those still living to create a kind of shared community," Garrett said.