When tornados hit Moore, Okla., May 20, members of First Presbyterian Church of Statesville felt a call to reach out and help.

The congregation had already planned a youth trip to Tennessee but quickly shifted gears to plan an all-ages trip to Oklahoma instead.

Although interest is high, only a few members can actually make the weeklong trip to Oklahoma. In addition to collecting donations, members wanted a more hands-on way to get involved.

“We wanted to come up with something that the youth could do that weren’t necessarily going to work on the mission trip,” said member Robin Downs. “The idea of stuffed animals came up and kind of led to … this project that the kids could actually make and everyone in the church could participate.”

As a former home economics teacher, Downs had a simple pattern to make teddy bears.

“You can trace, you can cut. You don’t have to be a sewer to be able to make these,” she said. “Everybody can help.”

The bears can also be made quickly, which is good because First Presbyterian hopes to have at least 100 bears completed by the time the mission team departs June 29. A classroom in the education building was converted to a sewing room, and the first teddy bear “class” for members to work on bears was June 5. 

The response was so great, two additional classes were added. Members from all age ranges, male and female, showed up to make bears. Downs says they will continue to meet three times a week until they run out of supplies, which are donated. Members who can’t come to the group meetings can take the pattern home and work individually.

Given the response, the goal of 100 bears is definitely realistic.

“They are quick, easy and meaningful to the people on the other end. People here can be doing something so it’s meaningful for them too,” Downs said. “Yes, they need things, but this is not just buying things. It’s hands on. And it’s a gift from our church.”

The original trip to Tennessee was also going to include a concert tour from the church’s youth choir. That musical element has not been lost. First Presbyterian is holding a benefit concert June 19 that will feature the church’s choirs as well as musicians from the community. Music director Melody Beaty is also working on putting together some short concerts or music featuring the youth and a woodwind ensemble while they are in Oklahoma.

Associate pastor the Rev. Grant Sutphin has registered the group with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, but PDA isn’t looking for volunteer workers yet. So First is coordinating its efforts with another First — First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Okla.

“(The Rev. Matt Jones, associate pastor in Edmond) tells me a lot of the work is clearing debris from private yards and public spaces like parks and roadways,” Sutphin said. “We hope to serve several smaller communities in addition to the larger suburbs that have been hit by the storms.”

Sutphin has also been in communication with some of the relief organizations already working in Oklahoma and has put together a list of requested supplies the group plans to take with them. That list is being distributed so other churches, community groups and individuals can contribute items to the effort.

Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, NC, where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.