Local girl donates teddy bears to kids at Camp Little Red Door

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind – We’ve told you about Camp Little Red Door. It’s a special camp in Indiana where children with cancer or in remission can go and just be kids; where they can go and have the traditional summer camp experience.

Camp LRD is set to kick off on June 16 and when the kids get there, they’ll get a special red backpack filled with goodies – including a special bear.

It’s called a "Peace Bear" and it was started by 15-year-old Emma Mann. Emma got the idea to do it after her Aunt Julie was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“I didn’t know what to do for her because you can’t do much,” said Emma. “So, I went in my closet and picked out one of my favorite teddy bears and it had peace signs on it. So, I was like, let’s call it a peace bear and give it to her.”

“Emma was a kid who lived for her stuffed animals,” said Janet Mann, Emma’s mom. “So, the best gift that she can give someone something she loves.”

“She loved her aunt, her aunt was a dream. She was just a sweet, loving person,” Janet went on to say. “She was really, really sad when she was going to lose her.”

Sadly, Emma’s aunt passed away when Emma was in third grade. Soon after, Emma’s teacher was diagnosed with breast cancer and Emma decided to pass the Peace Bear she gave to her aunt to her.

“Everyone just started to like having them,” said Emma. “I was like, what if I could do this for everybody? What if I could put a smile on everyone’s face?”

So, at the age of 9, Emma entered a writing contest at her school. The theme was “Dream it, Do it!” and students were asked to write about their dreams. Emma won first place for her letter called “Peace Bears.”

In it she wrote about wanting to make people happy all over the world. “I like how people are happy all over the world,” Emma wrote. “Some people are happy about a new toy. I am happy because I am well. Most people think that might be silly, but really it’s not.”

She continued, “I know I can do nothing about curing cancer, but I love how there are lovely smiles covering their faces. I feel like a hero to do that.”

At the end of her letter, Emma wrote, “Someday when I grow up I hope to have a bunch of bears to send out to sick people and I hope to see lots of people full of smiles looking back at me. That’s my dream.”

Little did she know - her dream would soon become a reality.

After seeing Emma’s letter, an organization contacted Hancock Regional Hospital and Build-A-Bear. They worked together to help Emma make her first set of bears to send out. At that point, she only gave out 20 bears.

And so, Emma’s Bears was born. That was more than five years ago.

Now, Emma is 15 years old. For the past three years, in addition to giving people around the state Peace Bears, she’s also been giving the bears to children who go to Camp Little Red Door.

This year, Emma’s Bears is donating more than 100 bears to the camp.

Each bear comes with a letter from Emma saying, “I hope this bear makes you smile, because then I will feel you smiling back at me.”

Along with the letter from Emma, the Peace Bears also come with a letter from donors, the people who help build the bears.

“They just write encouragement like, ‘I hope this makes you smile,’” said Emma. “Some of the younger kids, they write the names like…a friend wrote, ‘This bear’s name is Lovely.’ They just write cute little names on there.”

Emma says the bears wouldn’t be possible without people who donate to the project throughout the year.

“The main fundraising event we have a big ‘Peace Bear Party’ at Build-A-Bear,” said Emma. “I just invite friends, family, community and they all donate and that’s how we get all our bears for camp.”

Janet says Emma’s passion for the project is special in more ways than one, especially for her as her mother.

“I think as a parent, one of the best things that your kid can show is compassion; and Emma showed a lot of compassion and she acted on the compassion--that’s really, really important,” said Janet. “As your kids get older, you realize that teaching them how to give to others is probably the most important gift you can give to them.”

The people who get the bears make sure to let Emma know how much the Peace Bears help them. They’ll write letters or send pictures back.

“They said it was just like a positive part in their day,” said Emma. “Some of them would put them on their window and it would just be a friend, even when they felt like they didn’t have one.”

Emma and her family are proud of what her small project has grown into. Emma says her end goal is to get her Peace Bears into hospitals around the country and actually give the bears to the person who needs them.

“That’s all she ever wanted from the project was to know that people felt comfort and love,” said Janet.

Emma’s Bears collects donations throughout the year before the big Peace Bear Build, usually held in May. If you’d like to donate you can email janetlynmann1@gmail.com.

Note: the email address originally published in this article was misspelled. It has since been corrected. Our apologies!

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