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East County Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2020 2 months ago

Bear necessities create sense of community in Manatee County

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Teddy bears add fun for neighborhood children in River Place.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Five-year-old Liam O’Dell might have been social distancing with his family in their River Place home since the coronavirus outbreak started, but on March 25, he ventured outside on a hunt for bears.

Not just any bears.

Teddy bears.

“I like teddy bears,” Liam said. “I felt like I was in the woods.”

It’s a community bear hunt anyone can enjoy.

River Place residents are putting teddy bears in their windows, so neighborhood children or adults can search for them as they

Six-year-old Parkr Wyszomirski helped his father, Scott Wyszomirski, put a teddy bear in the family's window March 25 and was ready to go hunting for bears himself.

walk. Some have bears in multiple windows, while others just have one. Some are even moving their bears from place to place each day.

“It’s something to do while we’re isolating ourselves,” said Liam’s mom, Angie O’Dell. “I’m a teacher, so I’m incorporating adding and subtracting as we go. What makes it fun is many of them are hard to see. One down the street keeps moving.”

On their first bear hunt, the O’Dells counted 11 bears. On their second hunt two days later, they counted 30.

Angie O’Dell posted the “bear hunt” idea on NextDoor on March 22 after talking with her mother, Pam Matz, in South Bend, Ind. Matz’s other four grandchildren live just two houses down, so she was hiding bears in her windows, so those grandchildren could come and “hunt” for them from outside. It seemed like a fun way to practice social distancing while also giving them something to do outside the house, besides playing with friends.

Within hours of O’Dell’s post, more than a handful of neighbors had put bears out.

“It’s a great way to entertain the kids with the appropriate social space,” Scott Wyszomirski said as he put a bear in the family’s front window. His children, 7-year-old Abby and 6-year-old Parker, had not hunted yet, but they were anxious to do it.

Neighbor Cynthia Swales’ children are too old to participate, but Swales said she loved the idea. She put her bear in the front yard and moves it each day. She has also lent a bear to a neighbor.

“I think it’s cute,” she said of participating. “It kind of reminds me of Elf on the Shelf. I know kids like to search for things.”

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