TODMORDEN News – Facebook campaign delivers bear necessities for refugee children

Facebook campaign delivers bear necessities for refugee children

A campaign launched five days ago to encourage youngsters to donate their teddies to refugee children has gone international, leaving the Sheffield trainee vicar and mother-of-three who set it up “humbled and shocked”.Joy French, who set up the Project Paddington campaign after seeing photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned on a Turkish beach, thought her Facebook initiative would be a small-scale venture in Sheffield, where she lives.

Ms French, 39, said more than 4,000 people have joined the group, scores of schools have got involved, 30 regional co-ordinators have volunteered to collect the teddies across the UK and people have pledged support from as far away as the United States, Dubai and New Zealand.

She said the basic idea was to for children to give their teddies with welcome messages attached to those who have fled the war in Syria, and youngsters have been posting pictures of their donations and messages on the Project Paddington Facebook group.

The growing team of volunteers is also now collecting money from people who are sponsoring the bears and the latest development is a plan to launch an ice bucket challenge-style “bear selfie” viral campaign.

“The way that people have come together around this has just been unbelievable,” said Ms French, from the Norfolk Park area of Sheffield.

“We could never have known how this would have taken off. So we’re just humbled and shocked. The response has just been incredible.”

Ms French said she started the campaign last Thursday after seeing the photographs that have shocked the world and then meeting the head of her children’s school.

“I just felt that if we can ignore this we are inhuman,” she said.

“If we can just sit back and get on with our normal lives and this doesn’t interrupt us, then there’s something wrong. So I set up a Facebook group and it’s just been growing like crazy from there.”

She said the scale is multiplying by the hour and ordinary children have even been walking up to her to give her their precious toys.

“Things like that have just been mind-blowing,” Mrs French said.

She said the group’s website, sponsorship programme and a fundraising pack for schools will be launched on Wednesday.

People have been encouraged to drop off their teddies at local collection centres including participating schools, churches and other organisations. These will be gathered by the regional co-ordinators.

Ms French said her volunteers are talking to various organisations about how to get the teddies to refugee camps in Jordan.

“We are looking to partner with charities that are already on the ground,” she said. “We would love to hear from haulage companies and logistics businesses who are excited about what we are doing.”

Although her friends from her local church have got involved, she said it is not a religious initiative.

“This isn’t a church-based thing at all,” she said.

“My Muslim next-door neighbour is very involved. We’ve got people who are of faith backgrounds and none.

“It is about one human being reaching out to another. We’re trying to say that in the face of these awful conflicts that seem so so hard to resolve, actually, humanity and focusing on our shared interests and the common thread of basic human kindness is one of the things that might change things.”

:: Project Paddington can be contacted through the Project Paddington Facebook group, @ProjectPadding1 on Twitter, Instagram Project Paddington UK or through projectpaddingtonuk@gmail.com.

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