By Caroline Connors
A group of local small business owners will celebrate the season of giving this year with an initiative that welcomes children to the U.S. with a virtual hug.
On Sat., Nov. 24, the business owners of the Walden Collective — B-Sides Coffee + Tea, Beverly Barre, Joplin Marley Studio, Turkey, Capsule and Tranquility Salon Co. — will host Share a Bear Hug, a project that collects teddy bears and other stuffed animals to send to refugee and immigrant children, some of whom are separated from their families upon their arrival in the U.S.
A grassroots initiative founded by Beverly/Morgan Park native Cara Suglich and her friends, Share a Bear Hug is a “social experiment” designed to foster conversations about kindness and community and spread love to those most in need of comfort. “We want the kids to know we see them; we’re here for them,” Suglich said. “Even if it’s as simple as sending a teddy bear so they feel a little bit less scared. We want them to know there is someone out there who cares.”
Suglich and others from Share a Bear Hug will be at Beverly Barre, 9909 S. Walden Pkwy., on Nov. 24 to collect new and gently-used stuffed animals. There will also be stuffed animals for purchase and an area for children and families to write welcome letters to children new to the U.S. The event coincides with Small Business Saturday, an initiative that began in 2010 to raise awareness and support for small businesses on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
Since August, Share a Bear Hug has been partnering with Chicago restaurants, businesses, schools and community organizations to collect teddy bears, host bear drives and more. One such effort was held at Spiaggia, a North Michigan Avenue Italian fine-dining restaurant on that boasts Beverly/Morgan Park resident and “Top Chef” Season 15 winner Joseph Flamm as its executive chef. Flamm and two of his fellow contestants, dubbed on the show as “The Three Bears,” hosted a private dinner that benefited the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Texas Children’s Program.
“We at Spiaggia were thrilled to join Share a Bear Hug in this effort,” Flamm said in a news release. “It is only fitting that the Three Bears come together to help raise money for this.”
Students at Mt. Carmel High School have also participated in the project, Suglich said, by raising $550 and sending more than 150 bears to RAICES.
According to Suglich, proceeds from the Walden Collective event will also go to the RAICES Texas Children’s Program: bears will go to the kids while money raised will help fund bond for detained parents and legal representation for separated families and unaccompanied children in Texas immigration courts.
With immigration policy in the U.S. still unsettled, Share a Bear Hug will continue to remind kids that they are not alone.
“Hugs — even hugging a stuffed animal — provide real health benefits,” Suglich said. “Hugs heal. Hugs make us happy. They make us feel safe, welcome, connected. There’s even scientific evidence that hugs make us stronger—they strengthen immune response and lower stress, improve resilience and slow our heart rates when they’re racing.”
To learn more about the project, visit its website at shareabearhug.org.