Sisters Genevieve Van Driel and Mary Jerome Lacy with llamas. (Submitted photo)

Retired Sisters from Elizabeth Hall at St. Francis Convent in St. Francis gathered in their community room before Christmas to begin stuffing 123 flannel animal cut-outs for the youngest among the Afghan refugees at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy. The Sisters’ efforts were part of their ministry to aid refugees in transition. They were participating in a project begun by Debra Manske of South Milwaukee to provide teddy bears for the children.

Thanks to the sewing skills of Sr. Richelle Ranallo, the teddy bears and llama cut-outs were waiting for the Sisters and ready to be stuffed with fiberfill to create a cuddly toy. Over the course of a week, Sr. Richelle sewed each one of the animals herself. Sr. Kathy Cairns was the last to work on the animals, as she closed the small opening in each one through which the fiberfill was stuffed.

Manske came up with the idea after learning that there are more than 4,500 children younger than 12 living at Fort McCoy. Knowing the comfort that a stuffed animal can bring to a child, she checked with the Islamic Society of Milwaukee to see if a teddy bear would be an appropriate gift for the kids. They thanked her and agreed it would be a good idea.

She put out a call for help, and the Sisters eagerly signed on.

“These gifts for the children, prayerfully and joyfully prepared, are vibrant expressions of Franciscan charity,” said Jill Haberman, justice and peace animator for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. “The Sisters have a special care for immigrants and those suffering racism and always seek connection, even when their connection is from afar.”

Manske stopped by St. Francis Convent to collect the stuffed animals and prepare them for shipment to Fort McCoy.