By now you may have heard the story of Campbell Remess, who has recently earned accolades for selflessly creating and gifting handmade stuffed animals to strangers. A 12-year-old boy in Acton Park, Hobart, Tasmania, he has spent much of the past three years sewing bears for sick children.
When he was nine, Campbell (who received the nickname Bumble from a younger sibling who had trouble saying his name) asked his mom, Sonya Whittaker, if he could buy Christmas gifts for hospitalized children. She pointed out that it would be too expensive, especially since he has eight siblings, so he decided to make them gifts instead. Like many moms, she said okay and went on with her day.
That one yes from mom (when he asked to use her sewing machine) enabled him to brighten the lives of hundreds of children. “I showed him the basics of how the machine works – his first toy was a little ball,” she said. “It was straight line stitching. He then totally self-taught himself to master teddies.” He did this through finding multiple patterns online. He asked his mom to help him decipher some patterns he found, but she was unable to provide much help, so he persevered and figured things out for himself.
The first bear took five hours to create and was, as he said, “one little ratty, wiggly bear.” His methods have now been perfected and he now turns out beautiful stuffed bears and other animals at the rate of about one per hour with a total of about 800 to date. While other kids his age are playing outside or on video games after school, Campbell is at his machine, sewing bears. His mom says that if he could be on the machine 24/7 he would be.
Though he has been at this for almost three years, there has recently been an uptick in media attention for his project, including write ups in newspapers worldwide, a feature on Australian television, and several awards, most recently he became the first recipient of the Today Show’s “Little Heroes” program. As part of that award, he was given a trip for him and his family to visit the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, including a visit to the teddy bear workshop, Fur Addiction.
Though he gets some help from family members (who run the Facebook page and pre-screen requests), this is very much Campbell’s project. Whittaker explains, “Bumble’s project has been the same for him from day one. We have a really big family, but he’s the only one that sews. If anyone needs anything sewn, it’s straight to Campbell. No one else helps. The size of his project has always remained the same; he still makes 1-3 bears a day.”
“His dad is the only driver in our family as I have lost vision, so dad does seem to do a large amount of running around for him now. “ One of the weekly runs is to visits kid in hospitals every Thursday, where Campbell hand delivers his bears. He also sends bears overseas to people dealing with grief, such as those affected by the Paris and Brussels attacks and auctions some off for charity. “He looks at sadness and tries to turn it upside down,” Whittaker said.
He uses his pocket money and money he earns for doing extra chores to pay for supplies. His mom explains that the “supplies he uses most of are the fluff stuffing and eyes and noses. He has a large fabric supply.” The Facebook page, Project 365 by Campbell provides details of how people can request a bear or help Campbell continue his mission. In addition to giving away the animals, Campbell has also raised more than $5000 for charities through eBay sales of his bears. (Besides sick kids, other causes he supports are homelessness and domestic violence.)
Perhaps the most touching story though is much closer to home. Campbell’s dad was diagnosed with cancer and had a tennis ball-sized cancerous tumor removed. This type of cancer is known to have an 80% recurrence rate. He made his dad a special “Winner” because Campbell realized that “cancer gets worse with stress.” So far the cancer has not returned.
“We are a very proud family,” Whittaker says. She seems to take her son’s popularity in stride. Another family might be overwhelmed by all the attention, but this one has it under control; she is quick to point out, “We have lots of grown up eyes watching over him.” This extended “family” takes care of administrative issues, through the Project 365 website and Facebook page, leaving Campbell to take care of the creative side.
It was through the Facebook page that he received a much needed storage solution. One member of the community wanted to help and contacted his mom, thinking he needed fabric. She replied but that the most pressing need was storage, so a fund was set up, hoping to raise $1000 in a week; it was done in 36 hours. The money went to purchase a workbench and storage unit to hold the fabric he had accumulated, much of it through donations. These were set up in his bedroom that doubles as his workspace.
The offers to help keep pouring in from the Facebook page. Just in the past week, there have been offers to donate a sewing machine from an Australian sewing machine distributor and a plush toy-maker in the U.S. offered to send surplus faux fur and eyes.
A Go Fund Me account set up last week to purchase a laser cutter to make the process easier has already raised more than $8,000 of $10,000 needed to purchase the machine.
“Being kind,” Campbell says, “will change the world a lot.” Now this is a child who is wise well beyond his years.