Bear Hugs: Cabrillo High students collecting teddy bears for refugee children

April 10, 2017
Len Wood, Staff, Santa Maria News

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Krista Chandler Mar 15, 2017

Cabrillo High School senior Noah Benchek is doing what he can to provide solace to Syrian refugee children in Greece -- with teddy bears.

Part of a program developed and hosted by Children of the Earth, an international nonprofit that trains and inspires youth to become leaders of peace, Benchek and his school's Interact Club have been working on the Bear Hugs project since last fall.

The club, which has three collection boxes set up in Lompoc, is asking for donations of teddy bears, blankets, school supplies and money.

However, Benchek said he'll take all the help he can get, whether it's setting up a collection box or sponsoring students to make the trip to Greece to deliver the bears.

Interact Club members, along with Benchek's mentor, Robin Eschler, are hoping enough money will be raised not only to send the bears to Greece but, also, send a few students to accompany the bears and deliver them in person.

Benchek said he, Eschler and the Interact Club will be setting up an online crowdfunding campaign with Global Giving to collect funds for the refugees and trip to Greece.

“We want a full day of teaching the (Syrian) children where the teddy bears come from and what they mean,” Eschler said. “The whole purpose of this project is to build a sense of compassion and understanding between different cultures to promote world peace.”

The Bear Hug project began when Children of the Earth founder Nina Meyerhof first delivered teddy bears herself to children of 9/11 victims. The program took off when teenagers in Vermont took the program to Haiti after Hurricane Katrina, followed by experiences in Rwanda, Ghana and Southeast Asia.

Now, the program is serving children refugees of the Syrian crisis, who are seeking refuge in Greece.

“I’m proud of helping cross political boundaries to give refugee children hope and meaning for their future,” Benchek said.

Benchek was introduced to the Bear Hug project and Children of the Earth at the start of his senior year, when he began an internship program at Social Impact Marketing, a company based in Lompoc owned by Eschler.

The Bear Hug project not only became a vested interest for Benchek, but he also decided to make it part of his senior project, a necessary requirement to graduate from the high school.

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