Overwhelming response to 'Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy II'

As news of the shooting at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown spread last Friday, Dec. 14, New Canaan Advertiser parenting columnist and staff writer Julie Butler was contacted by a friend who lives in the Sacramento, Calif. area, with an offer of help and comfort via “Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy II.”

The idea was to collect teddy bears, which would in turn be donated to the children of Newtown as small tokens of comfort, as the town deals with the massacre of 27 people, 20 of whom were children, ages 6 and 7.

"I thought, 'oh how wonderful!" Butler said. "My friend, Deborah Johns, would be organizing a drive out there, and I would be her coordinator here. I figured the bear collection would be confined to New Canaan and maybe a few surrounding towns. Maybe we would receive a few hundred … but the response is much more overwhelming. Much, much more."

Bears can be donated at sites listed here.

Once the original story and appeal appeared on Hersam Acorn websites — as well as on Butler's personal Facebook page — it went viral.

"I have received at 100 emails so far — and counting — not only from people, businesses and church and civic groups all over Connecticut, but also from those in South Dakota, Washington state, Georgia and the Carolina's, Texas, Louisiana, New England … you name it," Butler said. "I am stunned and humbled. But Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy is far from the only group collecting teddies and I am now concerned about how many are going to be sent our way and collected locally. We won't want to swamp the citizens of Newtown with 'fuzzy wuzzies,'" she said. "Even though a good friend and elementary school teacher there told me, 'even the grownups could use a bear.'"

Due to the enormity of the response from all over the country, Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy is now requesting monetary donations, which will then be directed to the appropriate agencies to help the families of the victims, as well as the community of Newtown, who have all been profoundly affected by what has occurred.

Any excess bears received will be kept for donations to children in Connecticut who may be faced with other traumatic situations, or given to various fire, police and emergency services departments in the state, who regularly offer teddy bears to young children who need to be transported to the hospital, and the like.

"Many people have written to ask what else they can do, what else they can donate," Butler said. "It's not like Hurricane Sandy, a natural disaster that created the need for so many material things, as well as funds. This disaster has created quite another need, which horribly, none of us can ever really fulfill. But people want to do something, anything ... ."

Butler shas directed them to the website of the United Way of Western Connecticut (Newtown.UWWesternCT.org), as well as the Newtown Youth and Family Services site (NewtownYouthandFamilyServices.org).

To donate to Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy II, checks should be made out to that name, and sent to: Deborah Johns, 2235 Banbury Circle, Roseville, CA 95661.

"We are taking financial donations to help pay for the counseling services for the families and community, because the insurance companies will only pay for so much and then the financial burden of the counseling lies on the families. I do not want them to suffer and we need to help provide for this great need for all of them,” Johns said.

Butler and Johns have known one another since 2006, when their Marine Corps sons were both deployed in the same unit to Iraq. It was Johns' youngest son, Adam, who held Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy nine years ago when the school shooting took place in Bezlan, Russia, and he collected teddy bears for the children of the school, so that they could have some comfort when they returned to school from that tragic shooting.

Adam committed suicide in March of 2011, so Johns knows the pain of losing a child.

Johns says she is not surprised by the huge response to OFWII, and told Butler, "When you need a job done, you call the Marines. If they aren't available, you call their moms."

Bears can be donated until Friday, Dec. 21, at 1000 Bridgeport Ave., Shelton, CT 06484. Mail donations can be sent care of Hersam Acorn.

More info: jbutler@ncadvertiser.com