West Chester University hosted the 14th Annual Bear Fair this week, collecting bears for children affected with AIDS/HIV, and also children in hospitals and shelters. Bear Fair started as an idea of a Resident Assistant [RA], as a project in the residence halls. K.J. Rawson, the RA, collected 200 bears the first year, 400 the second year, and then asked people on campus to distribute the bears to local shelters and hospitals. Around the sixth year of Bear Fair, the event became a community effort, with alumni from the university taking part in their schools and companies. To date, Bear Fair has collected 41,000 bears, averaging a collection of about 3,000 bears every year.
“We’re really proud that we are able to keep the tradition and that we can continue to give teddy bears to almost thirty agencies in the surrounding area,” Margaret Tripp said, director of Service Learning and Volunteer Programs at WCU. Tripp acts as the liaison between the Bear Fair committee and the organizations off-campus who are participating.
The Bear Fair does not begin with the holiday season. It is a semester-long endeavor to get more funds and bears to fuel the effort. A committee forms at the beginning of the semester and brainstorms how they would like to raise money to buy new bears. Additionally, they discuss who else they might involve in the Bear Fair, including businesses, groups, or elementary schools. Everyone is invited to collect and donate bears. Aramark participated by donating Flyers tickets for the committee to raffle off as a fundraiser. The raffle proved to be extremely successful as well, bringing in over 500 dollars.
After collection, the bears are distributed to local shelters and hospitals in the area. The committee, along with Tripp, work directly with caseworkers and hospitals who give them wish lists, and in turn, they distribute the bears to those places. Some of the bears have special things done with them before they go out to the children. St. Peters Church collects bears, and then blesses the bears at the Sunday service before they come to campus for distribution. St. Agnes Church sends activity books with each bear, so children can play games with their new furry friend.
Organizations on campus such as Circle K, the Friars, and Alpha Phi Omega got together and created activity booklets to send with the bears as well. Additionally, SGA made cards to send. The children do not just get a new teddy to hold, but games to play and a special message that lets them know they are cared for.
“Our favorite part, as students, is knowing that these children will have those teddy bears for the rest of their lives,” Julianne Spadine said, co-leader of the Bear Fair committee. “The bears will not only be there through the season but they will be there to always comfort the children when they need it most.”
The Bear Fair will still be taking donations this week if you wish to donate a bear. They should be new bears, or “gently used” bears. Please donate to this extremely touching cause.
Carola Giorno is a student at West Chester University and can be reached at CG633075@wcupa.edu.