Bella’s Bears: Girl donates stuffed animals to first responders


PLAINWELL, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – One little girl in Plainwell got more than 300 teddy bears for her birthday, but instead of keeping them, she gave them all away.

She’s a Tae Kwon Do student at Repz Gym in Plainwell. When she began taking lessons, Bella Miller was Master Scott Polderman’s youngest student.

“She really went from low confidence and not really sure about this environment, then went to her confidence is through the roof,” said Polderman.

Polderman says in no time, Bella went from student to teacher.

“She likes if we put her with a brand new student, and she says, OK you punch like this, or OK you do your grabs like this,” said Polderman.

The ancient art of self defense is not the only thing being taught at the gym.

“The life skills are the core of our program,” said Polderman. “Anybody can kick and punch but to learn the life skills, to learn what it takes to have a positive attittude, what it takes to be a leader, and how to take care of your community. At the end of the day, you’re not going to be judged by what you’ve given back, and what you’ve done for other people. “

So when it came time for Bella’s 6th birthday, she told her mother she had an idea.

“Little Miss Bella smiled as big as she smiles, and said I want stuffed animals,” said Kim Miller. “I want Teddy Bears.”

“I didn’t at first understand what she was saying,” said Bella’s father, Bud Miller.

The stuffed animals, weren’t for her. Bella’s bears were meant to be shared. She wanted to donate teddy bears to local police, fire, and emergency medical services who hand out the teddy bears to kids who are in need of something to hold onto.

“I said are we going to do with all those teddy bears? And then she told me, it was touching, it was a great idea,” said Bud Miller.

“Sometimes when you’re an officer, you’re dealing with a parent who’s injured, or maybe we’re interviewing a parent somewhere for a crime, and we have to deal with teh children, so we give them a teddy bear like this, something they can hang on to, something they can squeeze,” said Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf. “It’s kinda like a security blanket like Linus with the Peanuts.”

As it turns out, several local departments were low on stuffed animals. Some had none at all.

“The EMS Plainwell, they were down to 2 stuffed animals, and we talked to another police chief, and no stuffed animals,” said Kim Miller.

“What if the kids were crying, and they need a teddy bear, and teddy bears make you happy, and make you smile,” said Bella Miller. “Especially if you hug them, they make you happy.”

“If a kid is crying because their parents are in wheelchairs, and they’re crying, Bella would bring them a bear and they’d be happy,” said Autumn Gravelyn, one of Bella’s Tae Kwon Do classmates.

“When we were sorting them, She would pick them up, hug them snuggle them, and she would say ‘This is going to make a kid happy,’ or ‘Oh some little boy is going to love this!’” said Kim Miller.

So the bears came pouring in for Bella’s birthday.

“We collected somewhere between 300 and 350,” said Bud Miller. “We had a storage unit full of them, stuffed a police pickup truck from Barry Township to the brim.”

“I didn’t even count (the bears),” said Leaf. “We just grabbed boxes and took them.”

Bella also received dozens of coloring books and crayons for her birthday, which she donated to the Barry County Sheriff’s department which uses them to keep children occupied while they’re working with parents on scenes.

“A five year old girl, gave up her birthday for other kids,” said Gravelyn. “She gave all her presents to kids who don’t have anyone to hug when they’re feeling sad, so she gave up her birthday just for them.”

Bella isn’t the first student in her class to lead an effort to help those in need.

Samuel Verhage of Gobles has collected thousands of blankets over the last three years. And Gravelyn ran a lemonade stand over the summer that raised over $300 for Meals on Wheels.

“It’s the spirit that moves through her, and it’s moved through the Tae Kwon Do class, and just keeps going. It’s movement and it’s awesome to watch,” said Bud Miller.

“Self defense training is just one part of our program. We’re teaching life skills, and kindness towards the community,” said Polderman.

It can take years, sometimes decades to master the art of Tae Kwon Do. But in the art of kindness, it seems Bella Miller is already black belt.

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