News Commentary

Girl, 7, starts Sendong toy drive

- Mike Frialde -

MANILA, Philippines -  At seven years old, Bronte Henfling, the daughter and only child of Skip Henfling (who works in the film industry) and Megan Worthy (an author of children’s books), is already an expert in understanding the world of toys and children.

Last Dec. 17, Bronte stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati while her father was busy with the location shootings for the upcoming movie “Bourne Legacy.”

In the comfort of the hotel room with Frank her favorite teddy bear, she saw the devastation brought by tropical storm “Sendong” to the children of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities.

Bronte realized that the children not only lost their loved ones to the flood, they also lost their toys.

“Bronte is attached to her bear Frank. He has traveled the world with her. We have been to 15 countries. Frank is a very important part of her because she is an only child. The bear is her family. It is her security blanket. It is everything. We know first hand that losing a friend like that would be very devastating for a child,” Megan explained.

It was at that point that Bronte decided to help gather up toys and give them to the children of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

Megan said at first Bronte just wanted to gather 1,000 plush or stuffed toys. However, she later raised the target to 3,000 toys.

Bronte also made a short film clip “Bronte and Frank’s Typhoon Toy Drive” and uploaded it on YouTube, urging other children to donate their toys for the distressed children of the two flood-affected cities in Mindanao.

With the help of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Black Pencil Project in Manila, Bronte was able to gather 1,500 stuffed toys from children in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Bronte’s YouTube clip was able to raise 2,000 stuffed toys, mostly from her elementary school in Beverly Hills, California and from children in Australia.

A “Tree of Love” located at the MO Lounge of the Mandarin Oriental serves as a drop-off point for the donated new and pre-loved toys until Valentine’s Day, when majority of the toys will be sent to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

Megan said Bronte will be accompanied by the staff of the hotel and the Black Pencil Project to personally distribute the toys.

“These toys will go to a therapy center in Cagayan de Oro where doctors will be distributing them to children. They will get one toy each. They will also use plush toys in therapy centers to help with post-traumatic stress,” Megan noted.

“That is how it resonated with us. We know how devastating it would be if she would lose Frank. When I showed her a picture of the devastation down there, she asked me what a flashflood is. She grew up in Los Angeles where we only have earthquakes. We don’t have floods and we don’t have typhoons.”

Megan added she is now writing a children’s travel book on Bronte’s toy drive to be titled “Bronte and Frank Go to Manila.”

“We want to make the kids back home feel that they are part of the journey because they made a decision to give a toy. Some of them have been separated from their special friends. So we want to show them the journey of their toys coming here and going to Cagayan de Oro, and hopefully making a child down there smile,” Megan disclosed.

She said Bronte, who experienced being evacuated from forest fires in Moscow in 2010 and was in the US when hurricane Katrina hit, realized that while she still enjoys the comfort offered by Frank, the children in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan have lost all their toys.

“She realized that the children there have lost their toys and the comfort that she now has with Frank. So we are now trying to give these toys new homes,” Megan noted.

Bronte, who donated all her stuffed toys except for Frank, hopes that her toy drive will bring back smiles to the children of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan when she finally gets to meet them with a toy in hand.

“I will tell them, I hope you enjoy this toy and cheer you up a bit,” Bronte said.

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