Gloria Brown delivers handmade happiness

Knitting Without Borders was started in 2010 by Loredana Delucchi of New York. Since its inception, has donated thousands of handmade teddy bears to orphanages, schools, remote villages and hospitals across the world to children undergoing medical tests or treatments. Her friends, family and co-workers picked up their knitting needles and crochet hooks to help fulfill Loredana’s dream of bringing joy to needy children. People traveled with bears in their suitcases to many destinations, including physicians from N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center as they visited medical clinics in far-to-reach areas.

Gloria Brown, a retired nurse from New Jersey who moved to Sedona two years ago, first discovered Knitting Without Borders while attending a Women of Reform Judaism convention in 2016. “At the end of the programming for the day, we would meet in the cocktail lounge or the lobby of the hotel where we were staying, and a group would make these bears,” she says. “My first one was very long because I didn’t properly count my rows.”

When she moved to Arizona, Gloria wanted to continue being involved with Knitting Without Borders, so she began recruiting volunteers to knit or crochet teddy bears. But when COVID hit, she got word that they would be closing down operations on the East Coast. “I said, ‘No, you can’t do that. I’m just getting it started here!’” remembers Gloria. So she emailed the knitters in New York, New Jersey and Maryland and told them to send their bears to her.

From November 2019 to today, Gloria has overseen the delivery of more than 1,800 bears. Bears have been delivered to the Sanctuary of Verde Valley (a domestic violence shelter), CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program of Yavapai County, Lasting Indigenous Family Enrichment (L.I.F.E.) Program and Native Americans for Community Action (N.A.C.A.) in Flagstaff and Arizona Department of Child Safety, and all the fire stations in the Verde Valley, to name a few.

Some of the bears Gloria donated to the Hanger Clinic.

One of the more unique places she donates bears is the Hanger Clinic. The clinic makes prosthetics and orthotics for adults and children. Marla Simon, a certified peer visitor with Hanger, spends much of her time assisting children and adults who have amputations with individual support. When she saw the bears, she asked Gloria about the possibility of making bears with either a left or right-sided “above paw” amputation. Marla herself has a below-the-knee amputation due to an infection in her left leg. The idea of creating special bears for these children became an exciting and popular activity for the bear artists, who responded with many uniquely crafted versions that were donated to the clinic.

Currently, Gloria is focusing on donating bears to refugees. In May 2021, she donated 100 bears to the Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Clarkdale for their backpacks for refugee children through the Lutheran Social Services in Phoenix, and 158 bears to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for their Welcome Center in Phoenix that is a 24/7 shelter to house asylum-seeking families released from detention. In July 2021, she coordinated the delivery of 50 bears to Casa Alitas in Tucson, a shelter for asylum seekers that provides shelter, food and clothing before leaving for their permanent homes.

Gloria receives her bears from “bear artists” in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, California, Arizona, and recruits are starting in Nebraska, South Carolina, Louisiana and Nevada. She is awaiting a shipment from an old acquaintance. “I had a girl from my temple in Westfield, NJ. She was becoming a bat mitzvah and she taught herself how to crochet, and made three teddy bears for her project,” says Gloria. “I got an email from her and now she’s a freshman engineering student at Cornell, and she made three bears that she’s going to send to me.” The girl hadn’t made any since her bat mitzvah, and Gloria suggested that she get her friends in college to all start making bears.

Gloria is a member of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Synagogue, and as part of its interfaith outreach, began working with The Church of the Red Rocks’ Hope House. Hope House assists homeless families with children in the Sedona-Oak Creek Unified School District so that the children can remain in school. Gloria met a woman through this project that is also a CASA volunteer, so another connection for donations was made.

Even with the pandemic, she finds places to donate through word of mouth. Her family teases her that there isn’t anyone the outgoing Gloria meets who isn’t an instant friend.

“I wake up every morning, and there has to be something during the day that makes that day a special day, something that I’m doing good for something,” says Gloria. “I just fell in love with the idea of crafting safe knitted and crocheted little bears that are hypo-allergenic, washable and safe for children.”

If you are interested in becoming a bear artist, please contact Gloria at knittingwithoutbordersarizona@gmail.com. For more information on the project, visit knittingwithoutborders.jigsy.com.

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