Gabrielle Moore was five years old when her father committed suicide. It seemed one moment he was there, bigger than life to a little girl, holding her in his strong arms, offering bear hugs to his best girl. The next second, he was gone.
He was, of course, irreplaceable. Still, her mother wanted to give her a reminder of him, something she could hold onto. So she gave Gabbie a teddy bear.
“I carried it all the time,” said Moore, 18. “I used to sleep with him. I still have it in my room. I put it on my bed. It’s a typical little brown bear with a bow tie. I named it Carlton after my dad. I always kept him near. My mom, grandma and aunt say they would tell me to put it down so I could come eat and I’d say ‘no.’”
When Moore was a student at Atlanta Girls’ School, she had to come up with a senior project. It was around her 16th birthday and the 10th anniversary of her father’s suicide, so it seemed natural that the idea she came up with was Bears for Babies, her organization that gives teddy bears to children 10 years and under who have lost a parent.
“I wanted to help kids who were grieving…,” said Moore, who loves to deliver bears personally when possible. Each teddy bear wears a tag with the name of the deceased parent.
She thought about the professionals who rushed to her house after her father shot himself. Initially, she decided to give bears to the children of “first responders—police and firefighters.” But later she expanded the giveaway to reach even more children. Now in addition to first responders, she gives bears to children who have a lost a parent who was in the military.
“It made sense to help their children when their parents are fighting to save my life,” Moore explained.
Right now she has about 200 bears in the basement of the Lawrenceville, Ga. home, where Moore, a rising sophomore at Spelman College lives with her family.
“I try to collect bears for three months and then on holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, I distribute them,” she said.
For her first giveaway, she developed a list of 90 children in five counties. She wrote each family but got few responses.
“I guess they said, ‘Who is this weird person?’ I had to be more persistent to get them to see I was genuine. I had to tell them my story, and then they were more receptive. They’d say, ‘Oh, she knows what she’s talking about.’”
In the early days she also used her own money to buy bears and to distribute them. She loved delivering bears, personally, when possible. If the child lived some distance away, she mailed the bear.
“I remember one bear I had to take to a child. When I showed up she didn’t know I was coming; her parents hadn’t told her,” said Moore. “I explained my story and what the bear symbolized. I’ll never forget what she said, ‘I’ll cherish this moment for the rest of my life.’ She was only seven. I felt her joy and it made me happy.”
This summer Moore is working on officially making Bears for Babies a nonprofit organization so she can solicit corporate donors. In the fall she returns to pursuing degrees in psychology, neuroscience and Spanish.
Last summer she partnered with Kate’s Club, an organization that empowers children and teens facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. Moore, an alumna of the club, brought teddy bears and baby onesies to Kate’s Camp Good Mourning and children decorated the shirts in memory of their loved ones.
“They could write and draw on them. Some kids put their night prayers on them. It was really cute,” said Moore.
What made the activity particularly powerful, said Debra Brook, program manager for Kate’s Club, was that the older children helped the younger ones.
“The little kids talked about their loved ones, drew pictures and wrote words and they kept their teddy bears overnight, which were a comfort to them” said Debra Smith. “The older kids could learn from the little kids. Some teens struggle with sharing and the younger ones have no filter.
“Gabbie is a teenager with a pretty strong presence and she has a strong, supportive family. She is really bright and focused,” said Smith.
“Her being at Spelman is nice to see; she was able to overcome the obstacle of the loss of her dad and learn from the experience.”
For her work, Moore has won several awards including being honored during Black History Month at one of the Atlanta Hawks games and being named a “Holiday Hero” by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“Her ability to overcome adversity, start a program that allows her to give back to other kids who lost a parent and still thrive academically and emotionally made her an ideal candidate for us to honor,” said Andrea Carter, Director of Community Development for the Atlanta Hawks. “Gabbie is proof that no one is too young to start making history.”
If you are interested in donating to Bears for Babies, call 770-579-3164 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.