Oct. 11, 2022 – In the early days of the pandemic, Alivia Gustman, then just 8 years old, was in a class with the goal of starting a business.
For Gustman, this wasn’t the time for a bake sale. Instead, after watching her mother undergo breast cancer treatment recently, an idea immediately came to her mind: Why not sell teddy bears to raise money for children with cancer — or anyone whose loved ones are being treated?
After giving a virtual pitch to her teacher and classmates in Boca Raton, FL, the idea expanded when her father jumped on board and helped build a website and secure a brand.
The result: A family-run project and the launch of crabbearsa non-profit organization that has sold more than 1,000 bears in over 30 states and abroad.
Best of all, thanks to all of these bears being shipped across the country (and around the world), Cancer Bears has raised $30,000 to date and donated those funds to cancer centers across the country. In fact, since the organization’s inception, they’ve formed fundraising partnerships and alliances with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, and NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center — all sites that have played a role in supporting Alivia’s mother Keaton’s Child Care Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides support services for families dealing with a pediatric cancer diagnosis.
How did a third grader at the time make all this possible?
“Knowing that my mom would be okay kept me motivated,” says Gustman, now a busy fifth grader who turns 10 on October 16. “I wanted anyone undergoing treatment to have something to hold on to. I thought a bear would be perfect for cuddling.”
For Tara Gustman, Alivia’s mother, helping others is in the family DNA.
“It was such a simple act of kindness that happened during virtual school and just as I was getting back on my feet,” says Tara, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in December 2018 and who underwent a double mastectomy Removal of 12 lymph nodes, 16 rounds of chemo, and 7 weeks of radiation. She has now been in remission for 4 years.
“The feedback we get from everyone is remarkable. We can’t wait to continue making a difference for those in need.”
And while Alivia admits she’s busy with schoolwork — it’s all about time management, she says — there’s nothing quite like seeing all the bears lined up and ready to be shipped out of her (and her grandparents’) garage.
Recently Alivia and her sister Savannah, 8, have been very busy attaching ribbons to each bear before it is shipped.
“You can request the ribbon for the person’s cancer — so teal for ovarian cancer, yellow for childhood cancer, and pink for breast cancer,” she says. “My sister is really good at organizing the tapes.”
Ultimately, this is a family focused on helping others.
“Every 2 minutes someone is diagnosed with breast cancer in the US, and while that’s unfortunate, what we’re doing keeps our entire family motivated,” says Tara. “We have become a source of encouragement in the form of bears and talking to people in our community. Luckily Alivia’s story keeps getting shared and the more people know about us the more we can help others.”
Ask Alivia and she will tell you that being a kid should never be an obstacle to rolling up your sleeves.
“Personally, I would advise other children to follow their dreams,” she says. “If something motivates you to help others – do it.”