Coming in all sizes and colors, they are popping up everywhere – on mailboxes, in store windows, hanging from trees, street signs and porch railings with kids of all ages on the hunt for them.
It is the Great George County Bear Hunt, with Teddy bears creating a sense of community and a welcome break from all of the coronavirus news.
“We decided to participate because we think it's a neat idea,” said Joy Herndon, the owner/manager of Moments Funeral Home. “Most individuals and businesses have Teddy bears lying around somewhere, so it doesn't cost anything to simply put it out for display.
“Most of our staff have children and even grandchildren who have enjoyed the 'hunt'. It safely gets people out of the house.
“We have discussed the relevance of "I'm Going on a Bear Hunt" book on our FB page before, as it relates to grief,” Herndon continued. “We feel this pandemic situation with COVID-19 is much like grieving to many people. We are all going through so many emotions including stress and depression as well as in many cases financial strain on families. We can't go around this situation, we can't go under it, we have to go through it. However long it may take, like the loss of a loved one, with the support of our families and friends, we will get through this. Connecting the book to the community bear hunt is a good way to provide support and comfort to our children and youth. They feel the same emotions we do. They need reassuring that we will get through it.”
The book is the children’s book, “We Are Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. In the story, written for preschoolers, a family leaves home – “We are going on a bear hunt, and we are going to catch a big one.” On the journey they encounter a number of obstacles, including tall grass, a deep river, mud and a forest. With each, they determine “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh, no, we have to go through it.” The story ends with a bear chasing them back home, into bed and under the covers – the perfect ending for a children’s bedtime story.
The message of we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no, we have to go through it is a strong one and particularly relevant during this pandemic. Mostly, though it is a fun way to get out of the house and go for a car ride without undue exposure to other people.
Among the little bear hunters have been Max, Molly and Oliver Walker. Their mother, Sara Walker took them on a ride Monday evening during which they found more than 100 bears.
“Going on the bear hunt was super fun because it gave us something to do since we’ve been stuck at home so much lately,” said Molly.
“I enjoyed writing down how many we found and putting up our own bears when we got home,” Oliver added.
The kids agreed their favorite bear was located at Go Church Ministries on Main Street. The large size bear is proudly wearing a “I love Lucedale” shirt.
Bear hunts, which are like scavenger hunts, are happening all across the country. They are in nearly every state with youngsters and their parents prowling the highways and byways on the hunt for Teddy bears. The hunts are just for fun and seldom organized.
“I saw Moments Funeral home had posted this was something for the children to do,” said Sandra Merritt. “I didn’t participate until a parade of cars started going by Saturday morning. Tammy Erkhart, who lives next door told me what was going on. So, I put out a couple.”
Merritt said she sees the kids waving and pointing at the bears.
“I saw it on Facebook,” said Edwina Southern. “I joined the group and saw a lot of people were interested. I have small grandchildren, and I knew they would love riding around and finding the bears. We would be able to get them out of the house and keep them safe at the same time. I have had a lot of people with kids ride by and take pictures. I love thinking this is helping with boredom during this time.
“I kind of like looking for them too,” Southern admitted.
Only about a week into the bear hunt, it seems like nearly every business in Lucedale has a bear or two or twelve in their windows or on store counters.
“I was at Century Bank yesterday when a car filled with kids came through the drive-thru,” she said. “We don’t want anything the driver told the teller. We just came to look at the bears.”
“I saw somebody post something about it on Facebook,” said Nicole Gay, with Southern Roots Produce. “I thought, well, how neat is that. It is really cool.”
Gay said she has been involved in children’s ministry for more than 20 years. “I am for anything that is going to be fun for the kids. I decided I wanted to be a part of it. I see the cars going by with the kids waving and smiling. It is kind of cool. It gives them something to do and it is still safe because they are not getting out.”
A number of the stuffed toys are far from new with many of them having special significance for the owners. Gay, for example, said her bear is one her husband gave her 12 years ago when they were dating.
While the hunt is for Teddy bears, there are also bonus sightings for the young hunters. Stuffed animals of all kinds are adorning mailboxes, sign posts, utility poles and windows just waiting for a family with cabin fever and a little time on their hands.