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.