HomeNewsArticle Display

Community, Air Force team up to give Haitians bear hugs

Francis Dugue (left) holds 6-month-old evacuee Anaellen Jean Louis as she plays with a teddy bear donated by Michele Gillen Jan. 24, 2010, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. Mrs. Gillen donated 2,500 of the bears to children of displaced evacuees at Homestead ARB and other places in the Miami area on behalf of Bear Hugs for Haiti. Mr. Dugue is a Miami-Dade 311 government center Memployee. Mrs. Gillen is an an WFOR-TV Miami chief investigative reporter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Andy Bellamy)

Francis Dugue (left) holds 6-month-old evacuee Anaellen Jean Louis as she plays with a teddy bear donated by Michele Gillen Jan. 24, 2010, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. Mrs. Gillen donated 2,500 of the bears to children of displaced evacuees at Homestead ARB and other places in the Miami area on behalf of Bear Hugs for Haiti. Mr. Dugue is a Miami-Dade 311 government center Memployee. Mrs. Gillen is an an WFOR-TV Miami chief investigative reporter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Andy Bellamy)

Michele Gillen delivered donated a supply of 500 teddy bears for children of Haiti evacuees on Jan. 24, 2010, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. The non-profit organization Mrs. Gillen volunteers with donated 2,500 teddy bears to children of displaced evacuees on behalf of Bear Hugs for Haiti. Mrs. Gillen is an an WFOR-TV Miami chief investigative reporter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Andy Bellamy)

Michele Gillen delivered donated a supply of 500 teddy bears for children of Haiti evacuees on Jan. 24, 2010, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. The non-profit organization Mrs. Gillen volunteers with donated 2,500 teddy bears to children of displaced evacuees on behalf of Bear Hugs for Haiti. Mrs. Gillen is an an WFOR-TV Miami chief investigative reporter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Andy Bellamy)

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- More than 3,000 Haitian earthquake victims have processed through Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., evacuating Haiti on military aircraft. The victims rely on Airmen and civilian community members to provide temporary relief until they can reunite with friends, loved ones or family members.

Among the Haitians who've processed through Homestead ARB, approximately 900 of them were children including orphans. Relief workers say the families and children traveling often arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

"Our job is to get them back in the country and repatriate them with their families," said Maj. Larry Holbrook, the 482nd Services flight commander. They've been through an awful lot and it's been a tough (time) for these poor people."

Employees from the Air Force, American Red Cross, Miami 3-1-1, Florida Department of Children and Families, U.S. Customs and medical professionals from southern Florida are offering the evacuees immediate relief, medical attention, shelter, blankets, food, temporary beds, and access to phones, as they arrive here.

To compliment the efforts, Southern Florida community members have begun an initiative to offer children arriving here teddy bears as part of the Bear Hugs for Haiti relief effort.

"This program gives a little measure of security to the children," said Major Holbrook, who oversees the reception area where Haitians in-process through U.S. Customs and receive initial care.

"Something as simple as a teddy bear can mean a lifelong change for a child ... this gives them a sense of security," he said.

Michele Gillen, a CBS-Miami chief investigative reporter, is leading the Bear Hugs for Haiti drive. Through community donations, Bear Hugs for Haiti has provided 500 bears for Homestead ARB. Many more went to the Red Cross and Department of Children and Families.

Ms. Gillen has been working with the Florida courts system and emergency response officials for years to put similar bears in the hands of children throughout southern Florida.

"I know how much these bears can comfort children and how (it can be used as a tool) for social workers(and) military," she said. "When the horrible incident happened in Haiti, I knew so much more was needed."

Neighbors 4 Neighbors, a CBS-based non-profit organization, is the backbone of the Adopt-A-Bear operation. The organization encourages community members to get involved by adopting bears which will be given to Haitian children.

"It's a way for our community to do something," Ms. Gillen said. "With the government having so much to do now, bears would not be the first thing on the list."

Community leaders have already begun supporting the effort. Herbert Hoover Foundation officials donated $10,000 for the bear drive. United Parcel Service members flew approximately 2,500 of the bears from a manufacturer in California to Florida for distribution at no cost.

Major Holbrook said the bears offer hope for the children.

"You see the joy in (their) eyes right off the bat," he said. "They grab on to it and hold onto it and they will not let that bear go for anything. It's really symbolic that many of these children are coming to this country with hope; they have nothing, but they're ready to grab onto something and move forward."

On any other day, Senior Airman Eleanor Bravo, the 482nd Mission Support Squadron workgroup manager, supports Homestead ARB's mission by processing people in to the base and supporting their computer-based needs. Since the Jan. 12 earthquake, she's found herself fulfilling another role.

"I do anything they need help in, such as feeding the kids, helping hold the kids while the parents, if they have any, fill out paperwork," said the 25-year-old reservist. "We do anything the kids might need."

Airman Bravo was working when the first bears were given to the children present.

"I think any little warmth to their heart, they will remember it forever," she said. "The humanity needs to come out, and this is the best time to do it. It's wonderful when somebody steps up and starts something. Hopefully everyone will come out and take her example and do something."

Gilda Ferradaz, the Florida Department of Children and Families circuit administrator, said she's seen first-hand the impact the Adopt-A-Bear program has had on children in southern Florida and believes it will help the children of Haiti.

"For children who have gone through the trauma they've gone through any little thing comforts them," Mrs. Ferradaz said. "I've seen them here (at Homestead ARB) and I've seen them at the airport when they come in; they just hug it real tight. I think it makes them feel a little better."

"This is really the start of a new beginning for many of these children," Major Holbrook added. "It starts with a bear in hand."

Engage

Facebook Twitter
RT @HQAirUniversity: AU recently partnered with @ASU to transform the distance learning experience for @USAirForce officers and civilians g…
.@GrandSlamWing leadership discusses the mission of the Combined Air Operations Center & its ability to execute air… https://t.co/9OnqXnsXLO
Air Force Col. Robert Behnken makes history alongside @USMC Col. (ret.) Douglas Hurley with the first manned launch… https://t.co/vlwqAecwrL
June Primary Elections season is coming! Contact the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) by calling 1-800-438… https://t.co/QrstiCwhez
RT @NASA: .@AstroBehnken = joint operations commander for the mission https://t.co/QuSYOgvRKK
RT @SecAFOfficial: Watch #LaunchAmerica live from @NASAKennedy tomorrow, May 27 at 4:33 p.m. ET ⬇️The @usairforce & @SpaceForceDoD are supp…
.@SecAFOfficial visited @HollomanAFB, @CannonAFB_, & @KIRTLAND377ABW during a 3-day trip. SECAF met with Airmen wh… https://t.co/NlwcJPg8k5
#ICYMI All official fitness testing has been suspended until Oct. 1 due to #COVID19. https://t.co/F7fWjfaInN https://t.co/plINnb0kj8
RT @AirNatlGuard: The @150SOW Medical Group assisted with #COVID19 testing at the Wellesley Health Center. While there, Airmen - along with…
Senior Amn Briana Cavassa conducts a medical screening for Airmen returning from deployment @AirAviano. To combat t… https://t.co/Hr99jonJtk
RT @AFmuseum: Already two years on public display! #WWII #memphisbelle https://t.co/sxbbaLeIsa
RT @DeptofDefense: LIVE: @ChiefPentSpox, @DoD_USD_PR & DOD Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman update Pentagon reporters. https://t.co/E…
RT @DeptofDefense: WATCH LIVE: @ChiefPentSpox Jonathan Rath Hoffman, @DoD_USD_PR Hon. Matthew P. Donovan, & DOD Chief Management Officer Ho…
A F-22 Raptor from @TeamTyndall flies alongside a F-35 Lightning II from the @TeamEglin over the Emerald Coast. The… https://t.co/asgdBrptNN
A C-21A Learjet taxies to the flightline @RamsteinAirBase. @NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility initiative allowed the aircra… https://t.co/uFkj2RUbwy
Thoughts about #MemorialDay from Lt. Col. Jeremy Guenet @129RQW. @AirNatlGuard https://t.co/arwZC9MIow
RT @SecAFOfficial: #MemorialDay is a time to remember those #Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and guaranteeing ou…