In a time where the coronavirus pandemic rules the news cycle, Marie Hopkins wanted to bring some light to Warwick.
She said she was online one day when she saw a post from a woman in Australia, where a group was placing bears and other stuffed animals in windows for their children. The “bear hunt” gives kids something to look forward to during daily walks, with playgrounds and schools closed for the foreseeable future.
Hopkins said the idea is loosely based on the book, “We Are Going on a Bear Hunt.”
“I shared the idea with a few local Facebook groups I am in, and an East Greenwich group that I moderate. The response was swift and positive, so I just tried to keep the ball rolling,” Hopkins said via email on Monday night. “And it rolled right into a big snowball. I am getting messages from all over the USA. People telling me they are starting groups in their communities. I think this is maybe one of those phenomena that occur in a time and place that everyone just sort of gums onto.”
Now, her Facebook group “Bear Hunt 2020 (Official Group USA!!) Started in the 401,” is approaching 16,000 members — up more than 1,000 from Monday to Tuesday alone. Community members from all reaches of Rhode Island are posting photos of fuzzy creatures occupying their windowsills, offering a brief respite for children stuck inside their houses all day long.
“Social distancing doesn’t have to mean that we are alone,” Hopkins said. “And, even for those who may be feeling lonely right now... the elderly, some single moms, or isolated families, they can take comfort knowing that there is always going to be a community they can take part in. For moms, it is nice to recognize that we can entertain kids without toys or screens. And, for the rest of us, to recognize that community connections go beyond social interactions.”
Beacon Communications posted in the group Monday afternoon, putting out a call to members for comments on why they’ve become involved. The message garnered more than 175 responses, with people sharing their stories and motivations.
Cheryl Browning of Smithfield said she has more than 2,000 bears, while Christine Grimaldi-Field messaged the Sun Rise directly to share her family’s story. She said her family has had to quarantine after her husband displayed cold symptoms, and they are a “very active sports” group. She said she is grateful for the Bear Hunt, which has provided a much-needed diversion for a family not used to being inside all day.
“We read about this idea on Facebook and decided to participate because right now all children need a sense of hope. They also need to feel like kids!” Grimaldi-Field, who lives on the Cranston-Johnston line, wrote. “I am grateful that this whole crisis while leave our family incredibly appreciative of the little things when this is behind us. But for the moment, we need to hold on to anything we can that brings connection.”
Several responses said the initiative is fun for young and old alike, and also that it’s a way for the community to connect in a time of social distancing. Those who would like to view the post can visit the Bear Hunt Facebook page, and scroll for a post by the Johnston Sun Rise, with references to the Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald. Please take part and leave your response as well.
“I did it because I am a mother and a preschool teacher and it is a good way to get parents and children to have some bonding time and a chance to explore their environment together,” Jodi Staplins wrote. “Parents are their child’s first teacher. It will also help preschoolers to learn about geographical locations.”
“The children of R.I. and all across the world for that matter are having to go through something that they don’t fully understand,” Johnston’s Laurie Audino said. “They are not going to school, not seeing their teachers or friends. Why not put teddy bears in the window to show them that we are all thinking of them. And also it gives them a reason to get outside and go for a walk to find all of the bears.”
“My step daughter and granddaughter live in Connecticut and they mentioned it to me that it was going on there,” said Virginia Barham, president of the Conimicut Village Association.
Once Barham was told this by her stepdaughter she figured that it would be a great activity for those living in Conimicut Village to engage in with their children.
Barham then posted on NextDoor.com about the bear hunt in order to spread the word. There is no goal or prize involved in the hunt as this is not a competition. It’s about having fun.
“The whole goal is just so kids can go out,” Barham said. “It’s really just a fun event”
Barham said that this initiative is like Halloween, kids get in the car with their parents and go to different neighborhoods, this time to spot teddy bears in windows. So far, there have been at least six bears spotted in Conimicut, according to Barham.
The teddy bear hunt has made its way to plenty of other places across America as well. Towns in Tennessee, Maine, Iowa, South Carolina and many more have all begun to participate. The hunts have even made their way around the world as there is also a hunt going on in New Zealand.
Hopkins said the reaction has been so immediate and positive because it’s a free activity that has no “gender, age or income boundaries.” It also requires little time and effort, and it provides a reprieve from coronavirus coverage.
Also, as Hopkins plainly states, it’s fun.
“Times are uncertain and we are all seeking a sense of unity, we are also seeking some way we can join in an effort together. As a nurse, I understand the stress and worry over illness, and as a writer, I understand people’s need to communicate with one another,” Hopkins said. “This bear hunt might not change the world, but I think it’s doing a lot of good: It is a way to communicate with neighbors and a way to ease some tension, simply by spreading a little joy.”
While the group continues to grow by the second, Hopkins encouraged those interested in becoming involved to spread the word in order to reach a wider audience. She said she wants to get to a point where children can find a bear in the window next door to them on every street.
“The bigger it is, the more smiles we spread,” Hopkins said. “Right now, a smile is worth a lot.”