Central Valley High School teacher Alan Wardsworth has spent the past decade organizing a stuffed animal drive at his school to benefit the Christmas Bureau.
This year, however, will be his last, since he will be retiring from his 36-year career as a teacher in the spring.
“It was my younger daughter’s idea,” he said of the teddy bear drive. “She and her friends were looking for a community service project. It just continued after she graduated.”
Inspired by the Teddy Bear Toss night run by the Spokane Chiefs every year, in the early years of the donation drive, students tossed bears onto the court during a basketball game. “It’s morphed between several different things,” Wardsworth said.
Now, the donation drive culminates in a festive event in the school’s two-story commons area. Students toss the stuffed animals over the railing on the top floor, aiming for Christmas boxes placed on the first floor. There are always a few prizes for students who hit their target.
“It’s pretty cool to be downstairs and watch them all come falling over the balcony,” he said.
This year’s drive collected around 2,000 stuffed animals. It was held later than usual, however, and Wardsworth had to deliver the stuffed animals to Catholic Charities the day after the Christmas Bureau closed. But the stuffed bears, dogs and other creatures will still find a home with children this Christmas.
“They were still looking for stuffed animals, so it worked out great,” he said.
In recent years, the teddy bear drive has been a project managed by the school’s SkillsUSA chapter, for which Wardsworth is the adviser. “I always tell people it’s like FFA without the cows,” he said.
Usually, Wardsworth would bring a group of students to the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center during the Christmas Bureau so they could see for themselves where the stuffed animals were going, though he hasn’t been able to do that the past two years. Wardsworth said some of his students didn’t realize that there were children in the community who would wake up to nothing on Christmas Day if it wasn’t for the Christmas Bureau and other organizations like it.
Wardsworth said it was his own first visit to the Christmas Bureau that inspired him to keep going year after year.
“My first trip down to the fairgrounds and seeing all the kids so excited, that was pretty cool,” he said.
Though he is retiring, Wardsworth said he’ll be passing on the stuffed animal drive to another teacher and hopes it will continue.
He estimates that CVHS students have collected 20,000 stuffed animals over the past decade. Once the drive netted an all-time high of 6,300.
“My goal was always to beat the Chiefs,” he said.
Wardsworth may never have reached that goal, but he helped meet the goal of bringing joy to the hearts of children on Christmas Day.
New donations of $5,950 have brought the year-to-date total to $560,074.19, pushing it further over the goal of $535,000.
Wagstaff Inc., of Spokane, donated $5,000.
David and Lisa Stagaman donated $250 via Schwab Charitable.
Divcon, Inc., of Spokane Valley, donated $225 on behalf of employee John Jessen.
“Divcon, Inc., and our team want to say Merry Christmas to Spokane,” company president Shane Miller wrote. “Each of our employees can donate to the charity of their choice and Divcon matches double their individual donations. Merry Christmas to all of you!”
Darla Malone, of Hayden, gave $200 “in memory of Richard and Maxine Malone. Miss you every single day.”
Bill and Patti Howard, of Liberty Lake, gave $150. Jose Cepeda, of Spokane, sent $100.
Frank Van Dyne, of Spokane Valley, donated $25.
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