Hundreds of teddy bears have been appearing on the porches and in windows of Gahanna-area residences to the delight of observers young and old.
The idea of placing stuffed bears and other animals in windows of residences has been trending nationwide as a form of entertainment, providing a scavenger hunt for children and adults who are practicing in social distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Gahanna resident Lauren Alexis Bergantino said she noticed a lot of places throughout the country were following this pattern of "community building from a distance" by going on teddy-bear hunts.
She created a Gahanna Teddy Bear Hunt Facebook page that has 180 followers and features local neighborhoods, as well as street names and addresses where bears can be found.
"I'm not originally from Ohio, and I noticed my hometown (in central Massachusetts) had a bear hunt Facebook page, so children and adults alike can have something positive to do in these uncertain times," Bergantino said. "I looked to see if I could find any kind of page for the Gahanna area but all I saw were individuals leaving comments on the various Gahanna pages about their bears.
"I thought it would be a great idea to have a central hub for the information for those wanting to know of good places to go looking."
Bergantino said she had no idea part of Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools' virtual spirit week, March 30 through April 3, included "Teddy Bear Tuesday." Residents were asked to place a teddy bear or other stuffed animal in front windows so students could go on a bear hunt while taking a walk or riding a bicycle.
"Once one of the (Facebook) followers mentioned it, I made sure to repost it to remind people the day before," she said. "I don't have a plan from here, but I figured that the spirit week was just to put the bears out, so it would be great if homes would keep them displayed for a while so that people can continue having fun with it as they explore all the different neighborhoods."
Kim Balzano said she and her two grandsons, Jacob and Carsten Balzano, were excited to be able to get out of the house recently to hunt teddy bears.
"Since it was chilly that day, we rode in the car," she said. "My grandsons looked out their van windows and counted bears by making tally marks on their clipboards while I drove up and down the streets in Royal Manor."
When they were finished, Balzano said, she wrote out problems for Jacob, a Royal Manor Elementary School third-grader, to solve using addition, subtraction and multiplication.
For Carsten, a Royal Manor first-grader, she suggested they put the tally marks into groups of five and then count by fives.
"After that, we worked on addition facts with the number of bears they had found," she said. "It was a good hour's worth of exploring our neighborhood, counting and math fun."
Jefferson Township resident Jane Cruz placed an 8-foot-tall teddy bear named Baloo into a chair next to a smaller bear named Fozzie on her porch.
"The big bear was a Costco impulse buy years ago," she said.
Cruz said the family has used Baloo to take pictures of daughters Chloe, a Blacklick Elementary School second-grader, and Hazel, 18 months, to show how much they've grown relative to the huge bear.
"We've had a lot of fun over the years posing the bear in different ways and the girls like to lounge around on him," she said.
Cruz said her daughters got a huge kick out of seeing the big bear just sitting on the porch, waiting to greet all.
"It was nice to see the smiles it brought to all of our neighbors who passed by," she said.
Cruz said she took her daughters for a walk around the block to see bears in between helping Chloe with school work, taking care of a toddler, shopping and everything else that goes into being a working mother and wife.
"I do feel blessed, though, to be able to spend so much time with my family, and we are making lasting memories together that we wouldn't have otherwise," she said.
Cruz said the bears were back on the porch greeting passersby when Blacklick Elementary School designated a bear hunt as part of its virtual pride week.
"Who knows, maybe we will put Baloo out regularly to help lighten the mood of all of this uncertainty surrounding us," she said. "And as the other Baloo says (in Disney's 'The Jungle Book'), we can 'look for the bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife.' "