By Rebecca Metcalf
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, two Flint women have been bringing hope—and essentials—to people in need with a very special deliverer. Charm Bear has been helping with the massive shortages of basic items such as toilet paper and cleaning wipes, while inspiring a community in mid-Michigan. The founders, Austina Smith and Mandie Banner, aspire to make people smile and lighten frontline heroes’ spirits as they continue to care and provide throughout the pandemic. They are 100% donation based and all proceeds go to feed our heroes.
“We started when the stay-at-home order was initially put into place. We thought we could make people laugh and help them by delivering toilet paper, wipes and hand soap in a bear suit. We began working with Mike Korth, who founded the Feed the Heroes project of COVID-19, to deliver meals to frontlines and first responders. This includes McLaren, Hurley, Genesys and Lapeer Hospitals, Burton post office, GBPD, Burton PD, Flint PD, Lapeer County Jail, Genesee County Jail, Michigan State Police and 911 operators,” explained Smith.
In addition, Charm Bear travels to hospitals, nursing homes, animal shelters, birthday parades, ambulance facilities, post offices and Whaley’s Children Center. Charm Bear delivered Easter baskets to children, wine to moms for Mother’s Day, bread to food banks, and N95 masks to Abby Hall, creating smiles everywhere she went.
“Charm Bear is important to us because being able to give back to our community and giving them hope is a truly amazing and humbling feeling. If something as simple as wearing a bear suit and delivering some food makes people smile even for a second, then we are doing our part and then some,” said Smith.
Co-founder Banner, who actually wears the costume, saw the costume at Walmart and knew she had to have it. “It was the best $100 I ever spent! It’s a lot of fun to wear it, but it gets very hot. Sometimes I have to put ice packs in it to keep cool.”
“We hope to continue to brighten people’s lives through this trying time. Whether it is for birthday parties for kids, benefits, fundraisers etc.,” said Banner.
The women are grateful to local donors such as Taboon, Captain’s Quarters Lounge, Starlite Coney Island and Kickers Sports Bar & Grill.
“We have delivered over 2,500 meals, food to animal shelters, cases of water to Midland, and helped out a couple families who lost everything in fires,” said Smith proudly.
“Without all the amazing people who donated, this would not have been possible. We truly owe everything to them. We are all in this together. One small act of kindness goes a long way. We are truly blessed to be a part of this project. Our hearts are full and we hope to inspire others to make a change as well,” said Smith.
Banner shared a story of a family they helped in Holly, Mich., whose house caught fire. “They are the Lauback Family of nine that lost everything. We donated gift cards to them to try and help them in any way we could. They were so grateful and there were a lot of tears. Everyone that we helped through COVID actually really touched us. Everyone was so thankful. It really was touching. We hope to continue to do generous things for people in need,” said Banner.
If you are interested in learning more about Charm Bear, please visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Charm-Bear-100127215014899. If you are interested in donating, please email Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Facebook page, there are a variety of photos and videos of Charm Bear’s adventures. My personal favorite is a video of a mom crying as she receives wine for Mother’s Day.
Charm Bear has a unique way of bringing light to dark times. Whether it is visiting a first responder, nursing home, children’s home or emergency room, Charm Bear is sure to light up the lives of those she touches.