BearHug: Gifts for military kids

Campbell Kinsman with a BearHug care package she presented to CCK, a local preschool hosted in Jesse Lee Church.

Ridgefield resident Campbell Kinsman is a nonprofit founder who has helped raise more than $30,000 for children with parents in the military.

She’s also a sophomore in Ridgefield High School who came up with the idea for her organization — BearHug — two years ago, when she was in the eighth grade.

“The teacher gave us a project called ‘Making Histories’ where we had to help someone,” she said.

“A lot of girls decided to help veterans, and it got me thinking about their families. So I came up with BearHug.”

The organization focuses on providing comfort for military children by sending care packages or financial support.

“The most important part is that each package has a note from another parent or child,” said Campbell. “It will just say something like ‘Dear friend, we’re thinking of you.’”

Ridgefield support

Over the years, Campbell had support and involvement from her family and the greater Ridgefield community.

Her mother, Christy Kinsman, is the owner of the Little House Shoppe in town, and has been a great resource for Campbell in her mission.

Her friends help her write letters. Her older brother — a senior at RHS — loads up his car with care packages and drives them to the post office.

She was part of Kids Fest, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, on April 23.

This month she partnered with Vineyard Vines in Westport and New Canaan for their “Shop for a Cause” fundraising event being held Saturday May 20.

Help comes in many different ways, Campbell believes.

“The first year we started, our family lived near a woman who’s associated with Gold Star Mothers,” she said.

“I didn’t know about it until this woman came and approached me. Her children were in the military and she had names and addresses of children with families in military.”

Where to look

She sent care packages to those addresses for a year and a half, until parents started writing back their appreciation and notifying BearHug they had come home.

Campbell said her organization is always looking for more families it can help.

Given the nature of the military and its confidentiality protocols, it isn’t always easy.

“People aren’t usually willing to give out military children’s names and addresses, which is understandable,” said Campbell.

“So I’ve been reaching out to the bases. I send the packages to the bases and they send them to the military children.”

That way isn’t as personal as when she has the name and address herself, but she trusts them completely.

“Even though I send to military bases, it’s important for people to know that they can reach out to me if they know a military child,” she said

“The best donation anyone could give BearHug right now is another kid to send a package to.”

The hang of it

Back when the nonprofit first started, BearHug would take up around 18 hours of Campbell’s week.

But through the years, she said, she’s learned how to navigate her way through the nonprofit system, and has also became more efficient with her packaging process.

“I would sit in the basement and make 40 care packages,” she said.

“Now I’ve gotten a lot faster at it, so it really only takes maybe five hours to do 40 care packages.”

Campbell said boys are the hardest to shop for.

She doesn’t like to assume what toys the children will like based on their gender.

“It’s hard to find gender-neutral toys — there’s only so much I can give them,” she said.

“I have an older brother, and when I was younger he and my dad always bonded over football and lacrosse and I wanted to be part of the conversation. When I was little girl I would’ve been very excited to get a football.”

She organizes the boxes by age, and labels them accordingly so that children receive age-appropriate toys.

Campbell has wanted to run a charity since she was a little girl.

One of her favorite aspects is networking and building relationships with other organizations.

“I like being able to reach out to Vineyard Vines or Build-A-Bear — that sort of thing,” she said.

“I feel like it’s making me more mature.”

For her, the best part is hearing back from the children or their parents.

“It happens so rarely,” she said. “They just tell me that the packages had a really big impact on their kids’ life, and that’s really good to hear.”

“I know it sounds cliché, but it’s good to hear that it’s actually working and helping — the reassurance that care packages were a good path to go down.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit https://www.bearhug.biz/.

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