MacDonnell won't be keeping the fluffy collection to herself.
the Gauntlet

Bearing gifts

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Miss Canada International launched its fourth Teddy Bears of Hope campaign this year, collecting well over 50,000 stuffed animals for children living in Afghanistan.

Rhiannon MacDonnell, a busy Miss Alberta International ambassador and graduate student at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business, spent her summer gathering stuffed animals by the bagful for Teddy Bears of Hope. The 23-year-old hopes that Canadian children will seek positive change both locally and internationally.

"I tend to be a big believer that small things make a big difference," said MacDonnell. "In the case of this particular campaign-- although it might seem like something very small to be sending one teddy bear or a couple teddy bears overseas-- we are sending them to kids who have nothing. Their physiological basic needs are barely being met, so for them to have something to cuddle and to give them comfort is really, really meaningful."

The campaign is designed for young Canadians who would like to help children in devastated countries. Often the stuffed animals are received by children who have lost everything to weather, poverty, disease, war or the death of friends or family.

Afghanistan was chosen because of a strong desire to support children affected by war there. The idea came to life with the help of Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada, the Canadian Forces and the Canadian Red Cross in Afghanistan.

"It's very likely that these [Canadian] kids have at least heard that there's definitely something happening in Afghanistan," said MacDonnell. "When you're a kid, there's not much you can do to impact the issues that you hear about around you. Some-thing like this, although small, gives kids an opportunity to contribute something to an issue that they're very likely worried about."

MacDonnell started the campaign in May and collected about 2,000 stuffed animals from around Calgary and Airdrie on her own. Her next mission with Teddy Bears of Hope is to receive stuffed animals from all over Alberta. She is searching for volunteers to help her promote and distribute the bears to children in Uganda for the next campaign.

According to Teddy Bears of Hope founder Sylvia Stark, not only has this charitable experience benefited children, but also the delegates of Miss Canada International.

"What it shows the young ladies who are involved with our organization as spokespeople for the Teddy Bears of Hope, is that you don't have to have millions of dollars to change people's lives," said Stark. "Children in Canada are very fortunate and many of them don't realize what a child's life is on the other side of the world."

Teddy Bears of Hope was created in 2004 when a tsunami wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia. Shipments made to Thailand were so successful that the campaign grew to reach 60,000 children as far as Cambodia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Stark said the program selects a different country each year so the Miss Canada International organization can address the needs of children globally. This year's campaign ended in July and the shipments will be sent from Toronto in approximately two weeks. Once shipments arrive, Canadian forces based in Kandahar will deliver the bears to local Afghan children. The stuffed animals are expected to reach them in time for Christmas.