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Teddy bear hunts, hearts in windows lifting spirits, unite communities

Teddy bear hunts, hearts in windows lifting spirits, unite communities

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series
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WATERLOO — “We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.”

Jordan Stirling’s three children found more than 250 bears hiding out in their community of Allison last week. They weren’t in danger — these bears were the adorable and cuddly stuffed variety.

“My children loved it. It got everyone’s mind off what is going on in the world with the coronavirus,” said Stirling, human resource director for North Butler Schools and Clarksville School District.

The award-winning children’s book originally published in 1989, “Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen, is inspiring and uniting neighborhoods across the U.S. and the world who are self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bear hunt idea has been floating around social media for several weeks.

In Northeast Iowa, in communities like Cedar Falls, Raymond, Clarksville and Allison, children ventured out last week with their parents in search of stuffed teddy bears displayed in windows of homes and businesses. Some communities like Greene staged a stuffed animal scavenger hunt with monkeys, snakes and other critters added to create a menagerie.

Foot traffic has exploded on Grand Boulevard in Cedar Falls when news spread that houses were participating in the bear hunt, said resident Sally Goodenbour. When she began noticing bears popping up in windows on her frequent walks, she Googled it and found that it’s a global movement meant to cheer up children stuck at home. It also shows solidarity during the pandemic.

“I counted 11 bears one morning, and my 9-year-old neighbor went out and counted 34 bears. Then I realized she was counting the bears, and I was counting the number of houses with bears in windows. Sometime the teddy bears change windows, and some people change the teddy bear,” Goodenbour said.

While one or two teddy bears on display is typical, Goodenbour noticed one home featured the entire Care Bear entourage in its picture window.

Parents are happy to have a fun activity to share with children, Stirling said. While some families drive, others are walking the sidewalks in their neighborhoods, getting some exercise and fresh air while keeping the appropriate six feet of distance with other families on the hunt.

Stirling heard about a successful Clarksville stuffed animal hunt, organized by April Hoodjer, where 190 animals were counted in three hours, including stuffed bears, a white tiger, lion and dog.

“I thought my children — ages 3, 5 and 8 — would love doing this, and I threw out the idea to our community. The town ran with it, and we had a blast. I haven’t seen my kids having that much fun in a long time, counting the bears and keeping a tally on a chart.”

Her children spied more than 250 bears on the Allison scavenger hunt.

“We’re a tight-knit community, and everyone wanted to show their support and send out a message that we’re in this together,” Stirling explained.

Teddy bear hunts, along with rainbows on windows to lift spirits, aren’t the only social media movements taking place. Several Facebook groups, including “A World of Hearts” and “Hearts in the Window” are asking the public to place cut-out hearts on windows. The symbol shows support and love and says “thank you” to essential workers, including doctors, nurses other health care workers, first responders, grocery store employees and truck drivers.

“I know in our communities of Allison, Clarksville and Greene, hearts are going up in windows and heart hunters are going out to count them,” said Stirling. “Coronavirus has definitely brought people together, even though we’re all tucked away in our own homes. I also think it’s brought people back to hearth and home — home-cooked meals, playing with the kids, spending time together as a family.”

Delighted in Raymond

Raymond Mayor Gary Vick is delighted the bear hunt in going on in his community.

“Just kind of that community involvement, trying to pacify the children,” he said.

He’s also noticed “tons of walkers” recently.

“They’re adapting very well, and they’re keeping their social distance,” he said. “I’m just amazed at my community for what they’ve done.”

Staff Writer Amie Rivers contributed to this article.

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