As 310 fuzzy teddy bears looked on, Jane Wolff read yet another thank-you note to her seventh-grade social studies class.
"Your project has brought me a bit of sunshine into my home," she read to 28 beaming pupils from Temple Intermediate School in Rosemead.
Chalk up another success for "Operation Teddy," in which students for more than three years have raised money to buy teddy bears for people with AIDS.
Students participating in the project, honored recently by the Rosemead City Council, were to present 400 bears to AIDS support organizations at a school assembly.
Wolff first brought the AIDS issue into her classroom in 1987, when she told students about a friend who died of complications from acquired immune deficiency syndrome. "I saw him die over a period of a year and a half, and it's awful," Wolff said. "There's nothing you can do. And I knew we had to educate these kids some way."
Students who saw a People magazine picture of a person with AIDS holding a teddy bear came up with the idea that led to "Operation Teddy," Wolff said.
Students have raised money by selling candy apples and T-shirts, and by persuading family members and friends to "adopt" bears for $15 each. Furry companions bearing names like Vanilla Ice, Honey Bear and George Bush come complete with adoption certificates signed by "judges" like Ted E. Bare and "notary publics" like B.Z. Ber and Scarlett O'Beara.
To add some emotional impact to the gift-giving project, students keep the bears for about one month before handing them to AIDS organizations.
One recipient, All Saints AIDS Service Center, will try to distribute the bears to patients before Christmas. "It's an emotional experience," said Connie McCleary, a director at All Saints AIDS Service, a nonprofit agency in Pasadena that is participating in the project for the second year. "One man, who was in the hospital and in a lot of pain, said that when he held the teddy bear he felt like there was less pain."
Another recipient is the Foothill AIDS Project in Pomona. "Because the kids work so hard to do this, when you look at the bear you think of the child," said Allan Ferrill, the project's education director, who received his own bear, Natasha, last year.
"Even though it's an inanimate object, there's a bonding created because you think of the child involved."
In addition to "Operation Teddy"--which has been expanded to other elementary and intermediate schools in the Garvey School District--intermediate school students in gym and science classes receive some information about AIDS, with an emphasis on prevention through sexual abstinence, said Maureen Bateman, district supervisor for library/media services.
Richard Gonzalez, 13, who said he wants to become a doctor because he likes helping people, said he doesn't mind the long hours he puts into "Operation Teddy" because it's taught him a lot about AIDS.
Gonzalez said that, before attending Wolff's class, interaction with people with AIDS scared him. "Now I'll go up and shake a man's hand or give a guy a hug if it's someone I know who has AIDS. It doesn't bother me anymore," Gonzalez said.