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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Chiefs Teddy Bear Toss provides thousands of bears for the Christmas Bureau

After Chiefs center Jaret Anderson-Dolan (11) scored Spokane's first goal, fans threw thousands of teddy bears onto the ice. The Teddy Bear Toss! was sponsored by The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund. The teddy bears will be given to needy children at this year's Christmas Bureau. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

The 18th annual Spokane Chiefs Teddy Bear Toss rained an event-record 6,829 stuffed bears onto the ice Saturday night as a sold-out crowd of 10,059 hockey fans gave their annual support to the Christmas Bureau.

The annual toss is eagerly anticipated by fans, who often call and ask for tickets specifically for the night, said Vice President of Sponsorships Jay Stewart. “It’s something that people plan their holiday festivities around,” he said. “The fans are a reason why it’s a tradition.”

Nearly every team in the league has a similar event, said Stewart. Some collect diapers or hats or some other needed item for charity. In Spokane, it’s teddy bears, which are handed out to recipients at the Christmas Bureau. “There’s not a lot of places that can use 6,000 teddy bears,” he said.

The bears are tossed onto the ice after the Chiefs score their first goal, and Christmas music plays while the bears are scooped up. It creates a festive experience for the fans, Stewart said.

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“The atmosphere is completely different in the building,” he said.

When the teddy bears are delivered to the Christmas Bureau on Monday morning, volunteer Fern Swecker will be waiting for them. She’s been with the Bureau for 22 years and was put in charge of the bears when the teddy bear toss began.

Everyone calls her the Teddy Bear Queen, Swecker said. “I just really love teddy bears,” she said. “I really love the soft ones. Teddy bears don’t sass you back.”

Swecker and other volunteers will sort the bears by size and then deliver them to the Bureau floor for distribution. Small ones are often thrown in as an extra gift as families are leaving, while the large ones can be selected as the one toy a child receives.

New donations of $10,035 have brought the year-to-date total to $166,030.95. The goal is to raise $525,000 by the end of the year to pay for food vouchers, toys and books.

An anonymous Spokane donor sent a check for $5,100. “Thank you to all the amazing volunteers and the Spokane community for giving so generously every year for the Christmas Bureau,” the donor wrote. “Merry Christmas and a happy 2018.”

Dennis and Janice McMann, of Newport, Washington, donated $1,500. The Chancery Sewing Ladies sent $1,000. Donald and Charlotte Butler, of Hope, Idaho, gave $600.

Timothy and M. Camile Schmidt, of Valleyford, donated $300. Sue Millhorn, of Plummer, Idaho, donated $250 in memory of her father, Thomas Freeburg. “Thank you for all that you do to bring Christmas to the many in our community who can’t afford a Christmas for their families,” she wrote.

Shirley Schatz, of Spokane, donated $200 in memory of her husband, Gene, and her daughter, Karen Schatz Dunning. “Merry Christmas everyone!” she wrote. An anonymous donor gave $200. St. Mary Presentation Church in Deer Park donated $150.

Michael and Sandra Povich donated $100. Ron and Cindy Loomis, of Colbert, contributed $100, as did Ruth and Gene Rayman, of Spokane. Bruce and Rebekka Higgins gave $100, as did R.J. Martin, of Spokane Valley.

The St. Mary Pinochle Group donated $75 in memory of Bill Kuch, a longtime Christmas Bureau volunteer who died last year.

An anonymous Spokane donor and an anonymous Spokane Valley donor each sent $50. The Humphrey family, of Spokane, donated $35 in memory of Frank and Vera Romero. Barry Newberry, of Spokane, sent $25 along with a note that read, “I just wanted to thank all the people who are donating their time. Without you it would not be possible.”