In a small village in eastern Hungary, more than 20,000 teddy bears are “hibernating” in a warehouse, waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to ease so they can bring joy to children in local nurseries.
Nicknamed “Teddy Bear Mama”, Valeria Schmidt looks after her precious collection of bears, now packed up in plastic bags for their unusually long winter sleep as Hungary remains in partial lockdown due to a resurgence of the virus.
“I give away teddy bears to nurseries, pre-schools and poor families. I make exhibitions for (children’s) institutions, a kind of therapeutic teddy bear corner with about 30-50 bears which the children can play with,” Schmidt said.
“Unfortunately, because of the virus situation, I cannot do these now.”
The 62-year-old Schmidt, who has four adult children, has been collecting teddy bears for 40 years and entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2019 for the world’s largest collection of them.
Her passion for the bears stems from her childhood traumas. Schmidt’s parents divorced when she was four, she grew up in very poor conditions and her mother drank heavily.
“Not only we did not have toys but we barely had clothes,” she said. “That is why I wanted a teddy bear so I could hug it and get some love from it.”
She hugs and strokes her teddies many times a day and she says they have cured her soul.
“Now these teddy bears make up for all the hunger, all the lack of love, lack of toys and everything. Especially when I see children coming to see my exhibition and I see the joy and happiness in their eyes.”