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Hope hopping from Atascadero: A message in a frog for Japan

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Deb and Randy Buckler want to make a big difference with a little frog — make that more than 600 resin frogs, and counting.

“We are sending out frogs like mad,” said Deb Buckler, whose “500 Frogs” effort to send hand-painted figurines to children affected by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami has quickly outgrown its name.

With orders for bare frogs and words of support pouring in from across California and as far as Switzerland and Germany, the Bucklers hopped to it. They started making 31⁄2-by-3-inch figurines by the dozens and delivering them for decoration to people of all ages from all walks of life.

After decoration, the frogs are returned to the Bucklers. The first shipment of about 70 painted frogs was sent to Japan last week.

The couple — who for 20 years have run a resin casting business in Atascadero — became determined as they watched the disaster unfold in March to bring a little bit of joy to Japanese children who lost everything.

“We want the children to know that someone else cares about them, that they know they are still loved and that the world cares,” Deb Buckler said. “The people doing it are getting a blessing, and the people over there are getting a blessing.”

“It’s my contribution to world peace,” Buckler said later.

The couple chose frogs because they already had 100 resin frogs, which were made for previous fundraisers. But the frog is appropriate for another reason: It’s considered a symbol of good luck in Japan.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit March 11 devastated Japan’s northeast coast. Nearly 23,000 people were killed or left missing in the disaster.

The first batch of frogs will be handed out at a children’s festival in August near Higashi-Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, an area of Japan that was devastated by the tsunami. It sits north of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

“We want the frogs to be handed from hand to hand,” Buckler said. “The Red Cross seemed impersonal.”

That’s why the Bucklers tracked down Anne Thomas, a blogger for Ode magazine who has written about the endurance the people of Miyagi have shown despite their sorrow and loss.

Thomas agreed to give out the frogs to children at the festival.

“Having something special (and) happy will be very, very meaningful” for the children, Thomas wrote in an email. “And these frogs can be kept, so the joy can live on for a long, long time. The international connection will mean a lot, too, I am sure.”

As the Bucklers looked over the decorated frogs before they were shipped, they admired the diversity in design, pointing out how one frog appeared to have “sleepy eyes” and that another featured a koi carp across its back.

“These are like wishes in a wishing well,” Deb Buckler said.

One frog is painted to look like the Japanese flag. Others feature tie-dye designs or peace signs. Hello Kitty and the anime character Totoro make appearances.

The artists are as varied as the decorated frogs. Students at Edison-Bethune Charter Academy in Fresno painted about 30 frogs, and the children wrote letters to accompany the figurines.

“I made a frog to symbolize hope and dreams,” reads one letter. “I am writing this because I believe in you,” reads another.

Patients at Napa State Hospital have also lent a hand, getting involved through Naci Caron, one of Deb Buckler’s friends.

“The process of painting a frog was a therapeutic one — a way of personally giving something meaningful, memorable and tangible to a child affected by the disaster,” said Caron, manager of the state hospital’s Occupational Therapy Clinic.

Other good deeds the little resin frog has been part of include fundraisers to support local 4-H groups as well as Deb Buckler’s horse rescue organization, The International Blessed Broodmare Project.

“It’s been a good frog,” Randy Buckler said.

HOW TO HELP

To take part in the 500 Frogs project, visit http://500frogs.com or contact Deb and Randy Buckler at gotrandy@tcsn.net.

Resin frogs cost $3 each (includes shipping), and a minimum order is five. After being decorated, the frogs are returned to the Bucklers for shipment to Japan.

The Bucklers are also seeking monetary donations to help cover shipping expenses as well as people to make fabric pouches for the frogs.

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