‘Friendship,’ said Christopher Robin, ‘is a very comforting thing to have,’ writes A. A. Milne, the creator of the beloved childhood character, Winnie the Pooh. Fittingly, this quote can also be seen across campus sported proudly on the t-shirts of the 2011 Bear Fair Committee.
The Bear Fair, a West Chester University tradition, returned for its 15th year on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Student and the alumni committee will work with the Office of Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs all November long to meet and surpass this year’s goal of 4,000 brand-new teddy bears by the end of November. These bears will be distributed across the region to children who are hospitalized, homeless, experiencing trauma, or are separated from their guardians for the holidays. However, the collection totals were not always so substantial.
In 1997, a Goshen Hall RA decided to conduct a service project for children in need by collecting teddy bears throughout November. Two-hundred teddy bears were collected the first year. Ecstatically, the RA distributed the teddy bears to children, but wanted the project to continue upon his graduation. The Office of Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs came to his rescue and created a Bear Fair committee.
Soon, more campus organizations, community members, and WCU Alumni got involved, contributing to the project’s success. Maggie Tripp, the director of the Office of Service-Learning, nurtured the committee for years, resulting in growth of the program by almost 50 percent each year.
More and more children in hospitals and shelters were receiving brand-new, cuddly friends to help them through their most trying moments.
One child was quoted with the following after receiving a Bear Fair bear, “Thank you for the teddy bear. I named her Tiffe. I sleep with her every night. She’s tan with a sandy color nose. My teddy bear is now six weeks old. I’m so very thankful.”
Last year, bears trickled from various sources across Chester County and across the US. After a month of collection, only 1,000 bears had been accumulated.
This seemingly large amount of bears was not nearly enough to satisfy the needs of all who had benefitted in the past. “I started calling benefitting agencies to tell them that we might not be able to meet their needs,” Tripp said, “it was an awful feeling.”
Thankfully, on Nov. 29 and 30, the last two days of the Bear Fair, over 3,000 bears poured in!
At the conclusion of the 2010 Bear Fair, 4,257 teddy bears were distributed to 30 agencies such as regional hospitals including Brandywine, Chester County Hospital, A. I. Du Pont Hospital for Children, CHOP, Crozier, and Christiana. Other organizations, such as Family Services, Project Hope, Hope Worldwide, and the Salvation Army also benefitted.
For the 15th anniversary of the Bear Fair, the Bear Fair committee is dedicating themselves to prevent a similar scare from happening this year. Bear Fair collection boxes can already be seen across campus, and bear collections are in full swing across the country and in the community.
Soon, WCU students will be able to spot Bear Fair committee members selling raffle tickets to win Flyers tickets that will put the winner close enough to feel the rattle of the glass on a check into the boards.
“For some children, a Bear Fair teddy bear is the only gift they receive for Christmas. We want to dedicate ourselves to giving even more children the gift of comfort and friendship this holiday season in commemoration of the 15th year of the Bear Fair,” Julianne Spadine, Graduate Assistant to the Office of Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs said.
To donate money or brand-new teddy bears (or other stuffed animals), visit the Bear Fair website at www.wcupa.edu/bearfair or call The Office of Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs at 610-436-3379 or visit B19 Killinger Hall.
Kristin Solanick is a fourth-year student majoring in English education. She can be reached at KS669351@wcupa.edu.