The Jordan family was in the middle of their Thursday afternoon walk.
Or better put, their Thursday afternoon scavenger hunt.
A few minutes after deciding on a route from her home on Third Avenue South in Columbus, Kristen asked her 4-year-old daughter, Lucyanne, what was her favorite bear of all the stuffed animals she’d seen.
“The colorful one,” Lucyanne confidently exclaimed, much to the amusement of Kristen and her husband, Durham.
For the last week, Kristen has used social media to bring awareness to the Golden Triangle about what has turned into a nationwide teddy bear hunt based on the children’s book “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. Participants are encouraged to place a stuffed bear inside a window for families to find on a walk or a drive as they leave the house while still adhering to the social distancing recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
“I was scrolling through Facebook because I have so much extra time these days,” said Kristen, a special education teacher at Caledonia Middle School. “I think it came from a COVID-19 teachers resource group. I just thought I’d take my two little girls on walks multiple times a day to get us out of the house. I just saw that and thought, ‘That would be really fun.'”
Residents of Columbus’ Southside have bought in, with dozens of households placing stuffed bears in their windows for families to find when passing through the neighborhood. Properties from Columbus’ Northside are also slowly starting to join the fray.
Some houses have gotten a little more creative, displaying plush toys ranging from rabbits wearing sunglasses, a monkey hanging from a balcony, Snoopy and Yoda.
“We’ve gotta have more smiles and more sunshine,” said Columbus resident Katherine Kerby, who placed a red and white Beanie Baby on a sign outside her home.
While the scavenger hunt can be merely a source of fun for some, it’s an escape from reality for others.
Starkville resident Kayla Graviet was temporarily laid off by her employer Thursday until the national pandemic ceases. She has two children: Maggie, 3, and Lonnie, 1. Graviet said she’s taking whatever positives she can from the setback, most notably her availability to spend more time with her family. The bear hunt has been a welcome sight in that regard.
“It’ll be difficult for us financially, but I’d rather stay home with the kids and make sure we’re not getting sick,” Graviet said. “If there’s one positive, I am spending more time with the kids, we’re trying to get outside and not stay cooped up.”
A little homework, a little history
The movement is even inspiring homework assignments.
Columbus native Charles Glenn, 7, who is homeschooled, was given a task this week from his mother to find out the origin of the teddy bear.
“He hasn’t done his full report yet. He’s asked Siri about it, but that’s about it,” Frances Glenn said with a laugh.
The Glenn family has searched for bears every day since Monday and is getting a little creative with their own display inside their home.
“We have a bunch of bears. We’re going to make a tea party,” Charles said. “It’s pretty fun, because I love playing with bears, but my friend always makes me play a tea party with Barbies, so this will be better than that.”
Charles said his favorite bear displayed is his neighbor’s, as it applauds the stuffed animal taking the pandemic seriously by donning a mask as visitors walk by.
Some stuffed animals have more wear and tear than others, but it’s going to be difficult to find one older than Columbus historian Rufus Ward’s, who is displaying a stuffed bear that was made in the 1920s. Ward writes a weekly opinion piece for The Dispatch.
“It was a childhood bear of an individual I used to practice law with,” Ward said. “He and my father had grown up together … his niece and nephew wanted me to have it and gave it to me.”
Small businesses have taken notice of the social media trend. Parish Potts, an ALFA insurance agent in Starkville, said he was given a suggestion by his coworker, Leslie Blakely, to rearrange the placement of a bear that was already inside the office after seeing various Facebook posts.
“I thought we’d definitely put it out,” Fellow ALFA insurance agent Potts said.
Potts had returned to the office on Wednesday for the first time all week and was admittedly relieved to return to a semblance of normalcy. He said he can only imagine what it’s doing for families around the area.
“The kids are going stir crazy,” Potts said. “The parents are going stir crazy. Everybody is going stir crazy. … In times like these, anything that can keep people’s minds off it or getting them out of the house while still maintaining social distancing is a good thing.”
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.