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Safety first for young teddy bear hunters (10 photos)

In this Rooted feature we go teddy bear hunting on Bristol Street with young moms and kids from Michael House and talk with executive director Karen Kamphui about the challenges ahead.

April isn’t typically bear hunting season, but these are unusual times that call for new and unusual ways to stay active and positive so, the folks at Michael House organized a neighbourhood teddy bear hunt recently.

“I have seen so many creative ideas online of things people are doing and I came across this,” said executive director of Michael House, Karen Kamphuis. “I thought that would be so fun for our families to participate in because most of the moms that live there have little ones. They’re toddlers and preschoolers that carry their stuffies around with them.”

The young families are tenants of the Michael House supportive housing apartments on Bristol Street.

“We provide housing, resources and support to pregnant and parenting young women and their children,” said Kamphuis. “We have eight apartments there where mothers and their children live and they participate in some programming - life-skills programming and parenting classes.”

The conditions of the COVID-19 social isolation and distancing efforts have been a challenge for the young mothers and their energetic children.

“We’re asking them to stay at home and stay in to stay safe and it gets really difficult especially when you have wee tiny ones,” said Kamphui. “They don’t understand what is going on. They don’t understand why they can’t go out to the park and go play on the swings and all these things that would be a normal part of their day-to-day routine. We thought this would be something that would break the monotony of being home and give them something fun to do together.”

The mothers agreed to space out their walks throughout the day Thursday to guarantee proper social distancing.

“We sent out information to all of them and put up a poster on our bulletin board with the details and then this morning I put together little bear snacks,” said Kamphui. “Just a little bag with a picture of a bear paw on it and inside the bag was a couple drinking boxes and bear paw snacks.”

The success of the hunt was dependent on support from neighbours on and around Bristol Street.

“Honestly, I have been blown away by the community response,” she said. “We put out 50 posters around the neighbourhood and if we had got even 10 that would have been amazing but there has been so much great response from the community.”

Neighbours found creative ways to display teddy bears and other stuffed animals for the children and some drew bear tracks on the sidewalk and on their homes to help the children track the illusive critters.

“Some of the families living on this street emailed me and said, ‘I have young children. Can we participate?’,” said Kamphui. “I said absolutely. If everyone is staying safe with their physical and social distancing, there is nothing to say that families in that neighbourhood can’t go for a walk with their children and enjoy the bear hunt.”

The teddy bear hunt was intended to bring some joy to the young families and lift the spirits of Michael House staff and campaign organizers given that they have been forced to cancel or postpone a number of other events and activities.

“The spring season, for us, is very heavy for fundraising and we bring in a lot of money through the events that we have in the spring,” said Kamphui. “We had to cancel two events that are our ‘Ladies’ Day Out – Come Celebrate Spring’ that were booked for March 21 and April 4. Silveri Jewellers in Guelph were putting on a spring fashion show for us on April 17 that we’ve had to cancel.”

The annual Baby Bottle Campaign has been impacted as well.

“We do our Baby Bottle Campaign between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day and we are still sorting out how we can do it differently or do it later,” she said. “Our golf tournament we have now postponed until August.”

Kamphui said they are not the only non-profit organization or business impacted by COVID-19.

“We are like so many other organizations that have had to cancel things because the safety of the community and families is the most important thing,” she said. “This is a serious thing we have to take to heart. We just don’t know how we will come out of this and what changes will have to be made in order to get back a semblance of what we once were.”

The teddy bear hunt gave everyone, the little ones as well as the grownups, a short and needed break from the crisis.

“This was very fun for us to do too and we are just trying to think of creative ideas that we can do to help keep everybody feeling positive and having things to look forward to.”