For kids, a teddy bear can be so much more than a toy – a best friend, a confidant, a source of comfort and joy.
On Saturday, the Spokane Chiefs hockey club donated 6,000 stuffed animals to the Christmas Bureau, an annual event that provides new books, toys, food vouchers and more to those who need a little help during the holidays.
“People were just really excited to get them,” toy room volunteer Cheryl Taam said.
Kayla Haughton, who visited the Bureau on Saturday, chose an enormous teddy bear to give her 4-year-old daughter, a collector of plush toys.
“She loves them,” she said. “You can just build a whole world of imagination around them.”
Haughton, 24, said she’s been struggling to get by after taking time off work because of an ectopic pregnancy that required blood work and chemotherapy injections.
She ran the gamut of emotions, from shock and excitement over the news she was pregnant to devastation at the discovery the pregnancy was not viable.
“My whole world just got torn to pieces,” she said.
It took her more than two months to recover physically and emotionally, and now, still trying to catch up, she has to take more time off to care for her daughter following oral surgery.
The single mom doesn’t get child support, and there isn’t enough money to pay the bills. Haughton has to worry about her power being shut off and eviction from their home.
“I don’t really have a support system,” she said.
Despite the struggles they’re enduring, Haughton said the bear she received at the Bureau will make Christmas brighter for her little girl.
“I am very grateful for the Christmas Bureau and for being able to add this giant stuffed animal to her collection,” she said. “I know with this it will actually make Christmas morning a lot better for her, instead of waking up to no Christmas.”
A hockey team in Canada started a similar event to collect charitable donations, and “it kind of snowballed from there with other teams,” said Jay Stewart, the team’s vice president of sponsorships.
Some teams collect hats, socks, diapers or other items to donate. For the Chiefs, it was thousands of bears to give to kids at the Christmas Bureau. At the game Friday night against the Kootenay Ice, fans brought bears to toss onto the ice. Volunteers collected and bagged them, and team members delivered them Saturday morning to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.
“It’s a pretty fun event,” Stewart said. “It is a little bit different than your normal, regular season game. It is a lot more festive. The fans really enjoy this one.”
Students at Central Valley High School also held their sixth teddy bear drive to benefit the Bureau.
Fern Swecker, 67, who has volunteered at the Bureau for about 21 years, leads the effort to sort the bears so they can be handed out at the Bureau.
Swecker, known around the Bureau as the “Teddy Bear Queen,” said teddy bears were an important part of her own childhood.
“They just remind me of a soft embrace,” she said. “They just really make you feel good when you hug them. They’re a friend.”
An anonymous donor gave $1,000.
All Lines Insurance gave $500, writing in part, “The owners and staff of All Lines Insurance Inc. decided to contribute these funds instead of holding our annual gift exchange.”
Timothy and M. Camille Schmidt, of Valleyford, gave $300.
An anonymous donor gave $250 in honor of Tim and Lori Huling.
Phyllis Worden gave $200.
An anonymous donor gave $100.
Don and Vicki Gorder, of Buckeye, Arizona, gave $100.
Jerry and Helen Gillory gave $100.
Kelly and Janet Watson, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Bill Watson.
Ed and Susan Leach gave $50.
Connie Vetter gave $50.
Karen Ryan, of Spokane, gave $30.
For donations made through PayPal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.
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