Local organization, restaurant plan teddy bear donation drive

A local organization is asking the community to donate teddy bears for kids in need this month.

Bear Hugs, a community organization that distributes backpacks with blankets, teddy bears and other items to kids in need, is seeking donations on Saturday, which coincides with National Teddy Bear Day. Jessy Jeffries, a Kenai Central High School junior who helps run Bear Hugs with her mother Tricey Katzenberger, said the drive Saturday is to help rebuild their collection of actual teddy bears for the backpacks.

“My mom had me pack a couple of backpacks the other night, and when I went to go get a teddy bear, we didn’t have any,” she said. “I said, ‘Mom, we have everything but teddy bears.’”

While they appreciate the donations, they wanted to get back to their roots and ask for more teddy bears that can fit in backpacks, Jeffries said.

Jeffries is organizing the drive as a partnership between the high school’s National Honor Society and the Double O restaurant in the Kenai Airport. Though the high school will be closed on Saturday, Double O will accept the donations in a tub during its regular hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., said Double O co-owner Tammy Olson.

“As part of this program we’re requesting teddy bears, and my restaurant will bring in 10 percent off to anyone who can bring in a teddy bear,” Olson said.

In addition to the drive Saturday, Olson said the restaurant will expand the partnership to run all month. Saturday is focused on teddy bears specifically, but they will accept donations of any type, she said.

She said she got involved when she heard that many children going into foster care in the state don’t get to take personal items with them.

“That really wrenched my heart,” she said. “So I wanted to make sure this month that we focused on helping this organization to give these kids something to hold onto and show that they are loved.”

Jeffries said she’s still working on getting the donation box in Kenai Central High School but is hoping to run a donation drive all month there as well. People in need reach out to Bear Hugs through its Facebook page, and Jeffries estimated they had given away about 100 backpacks to families on the peninsula as well as in Anchorage and other areas around Alaska. They always include a blanket and a teddy bear, but other than that, they customize what’s in the backpack based on the child’s age and gender, including coats and gloves in the wintertime, for example.

“We basically customize that backpack for them,” she said. “Some kids like to read, most kids like to color.”

Heather and Heather Screen Printing and Formations Chiropractic in Soldotna also accept donations for Bear Hugs, she said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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