LAS VEGAS (AP) — In the aftermath of the mass shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, a campaign to deliver huggable bears is bringing comfort and connecting survivors more than a thousand miles apart.
Beverly King, a survivor of a shooting that killed more than 58 people on the Las Vegas Strip in October 2017, and a team of volunteers traveled to Uvalde to give 1,000 Comfort Cubs to children and families affected by the May 24 shooting.
Students, families and staff at Robb Elementary School, the site of the shooting, received their Comfort Cubs, and Uvalde’s first responders were next on the list, King told the Las Vegas Sun.
“I’m grateful that we were able to bring a little comfort to this devastated community,” King said. “If I helped one person, (then) it was worth it!”
King took to Facebook in late May asking for donations of $50, the cost of a single bear. She received not only monetary support, but the backing of people who offered whatever they could to help.
For two days, 75 volunteers packed boxes of bears, some of which were transported to the southwest Texas town for free by United Airlines, King said.
The Uvalde Leader-News s tored boxes in its loading dock and local police officers drove them to the memorial site at Robb Elementary.
King, the Oct. 1 survivors and the Comfort Cub group worked with Uvalde community members, like Gloria Resma, an executive assistant for the city of Uvalde.
A donor paid for King’s plane ticket from her hometown in Malone, New York, to Uvalde, and she flew to meet the five other volunteers who helped make this happen: Comfort Cub founder Marcella Johnson; board member Liz Tyson; ambassador Frania Black; and two fellow Oct. 1 survivors — Marianne Crane from Tennessee and Darlene McKnight from California.
Comfort Cub is a nonprofit organization based in Encinitas, California
“Being able to see the looks on not only the kids, but the adults as well … when we would hand them a cub, they would smile,” Crane said. “In the midst of the tragedy and the sadness, they smiled.”
King’s Facebook fundraiser is now filled with pictures of children and adults alike gripping plush bears.
“It was an amazing experience to see how strangers come together to help one another,” Resma told the Sun. “This is a huge comfort and gives (the children and families) something physically to hold and help them cope with what is going on. Having someone care that they have never met will be a long-lasting memory and give them the chance to hold onto something positive during a tragic event.”
The Comfort Cub is a “specially weighted therapeutic” stuffed bear for those who have experienced severe trauma, especially relating to the loss of a child.
According to Johnson, the bear’s weight is intended to help those suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome — a condition that occurs when severe emotional or physical stress causes the heart’s pumping chamber to weaken.
A study conducted by the Institute for Palliative Medicine at the San Diego Hospice found that Comfort Cubs “led to profound relief” when given to mothers suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome.
King discovered the California-based company four years ago while in intense trauma therapy as a result of the Oct. 1 shooting. She believes these bears have “such a calming effect,” and that “gifting these bears to others was even more healing” than using one herself.
Since becoming company ambassadors, Johnson and King have sent Comfort Cubs to the elderly, intellectually challenged children, those with medical challenges and people living with mental illness. They also have gifted bears to people affected other mass shootings throughout the country.
“We normally just made a connection in the area and shipped bears,” King said about the process of her sending out Comfort Cubs. “When Uvalde happened, we knew we had to go.”
Johnson and King planned to send 60 more bears to the teachers, faculty and staff at Robb Elementary. Another 65 bears will go to first responders, Johnson said.
King and Crane planned to return to Las Vegas in October for the five-year remembrance of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting that killed 58 at a concert venue. Officials say at least two other people died later of their gunshot wounds.
King said she plans to bring enough bears to honor each person who died.