Local nonprofit sending therapy teddy bears to survivors of Texas school shooting

Volunteers prepare weighted therapeutic teddy bears for packing
Volunteers, from left, Colleen Scheidler, Erin Powell, Gwyn Krstich and Lindsey Clifford prepare weighted therapeutic teddy bears at the home of The Comfort Cub founder Marcella Johnson on Saturday to send to Uvalde, Texas.
(Haley Nelson/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Volunteers in San Diego County are packing up hundreds of Comfort Cubs this weekend to send to Uvalde


Dozens of volunteers turned out Saturday morning to pack therapeutic teddy bears made by a local nonprofit to help in some small way to ease the grief from Tuesday’s mass shooting in Texas.

All told, more than 700 Comfort Cubs will end up in the town of Uvalde — enough for every student at Robb Elementary School, as well as family members of the children and teachers who died or were injured.

“We’re sending the cubs because we’re trying to heal broken hearts,” said Marcella Johnson, who founded The Comfort Cub after coping with the death of a newborn 23 years ago.

The nonprofit has already sent seven boxes containing 42 Comfort Cubs that will be personally delivered to the victims’ families.

After an official in the mayor’s office in Uvalde told Johnson of the depth of the trauma the children in the school are experiencing, Johnson decided to donate another 660, including a few extras in case some teachers need them, too.

“It’s not just a plush stuffed animal, it’s a therapeutic teddy bear,” Johnson said. “When you put pressure against your body and you hold something close to you, it causes your brain to release dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which causes a physiological change in your body. It causes your heart rate to slow down your breathing, to slow down, and you have an overall sense of calm.”

Marcella Johnson, Founder of The Comfort Cub
Marcella Johnson, founder of The Comfort Cub, speaks to the group of volunteers packing teddy bears at her home on Saturday in Encinitas.
(Haley Nelson/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Filled with plastic pellets, each Comfort Cub weighs about 4 pounds. That’s enough weight, the organization says, to allow for “deep touch pressure” that helps ease anxiety and stress.

To facilitate a quick shipment to Texas, Johnson put out the call on social media and asked for volunteers to pack the Comfort Cubs. She was pleasantly surprised to see about 55 people show up in her family’s Encinitas driveway Saturday morning.

“I just think this will give those kids a lot of comfort and love,” said 14-year-old James Jansen. Fellow Calavera Hills Middle School student Olivia Clark agreed. “A lot of people lost those who they were really close to,” she said, “and we just need to make sure they feel better.” Both are members of the Carlsbad-based Kids For Peace nonprofit.

A Comfort Cub is fluffed and prepared for shipment to a student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas
A weighted therapeutic teddy bear is fluffed and prepared for shipment to a student at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, at the Encinitas home of The Comfort Cub founder Marcella Johnson on Saturday.
(Haley Nelson/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Just a few feet away, La Mesa resident Sarah Word wrote a personal note on one of the cards attached to the teddy bears. Word and a number of volunteers survived the 2017 Las Vegas music festival shooting that killed 60 and wounded 411.

“At the beginning, I had nightmares every night, and the weight of the bear really helped calm me down,” Word said. “If I had panic attacks or anytime I felt like I didn’t have someone to help or hug me, then I just used my bear. It helped immensely.”

“It’s been hard for all survivors this week,” said Erin Powell of Rancho Santa Fe, who also survived the attack. “This is part of our healing, to help in some way.”

Shannon Moffett’s feet were bloodied after she ran over shattered glass at the Las Vegas shooting. “When I was healing a couple months afterwards, I found an old teddy bear and at night when you’re kind of alone and when you’re holding something, it just really helped,” the Encinitas designer said. “And then finding out that they’re sending all these to the kids, to hold and give them some comfort at night, it’s such a huge thing.”

Typically, it would cost almost $40,000 to ship 110 boxes of Comfort Cubs by air cargo, Johnson said, but United Airlines agreed to waive the charge.

Tana Hutchinson packs and labels boxes of weighted therapeutic teddy bears
Tana Hutchinson, from Escondido, packs and labels boxes of weighted therapeutic teddy bears to send to students at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
(Haley Nelson/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I think everyone is just looking to help and contribute,” said Bonnie Leth, sales manager at United Airlines and a Santee resident. “There are so many bad things happening, and this just shows you there are a lot of good people.”

Johnson will accompany the shipment when it arrives Tuesday at the airport in San Antonio, which is located about 80 miles from Uvalde. From there, Johnson said she and other volunteers will help transport the Comfort Cubs and make sure they are delivered to the kids, teachers and families.