'We're going on a bear hunt...'

Cheryl Dolan and her children, Amelia, 10, and Conor, 11, hold their stuffed animals at their home in Salem. Dolan helped kick off a teddy-bear hunting game, and now a map of the bears has 59 stops to pass by while other parts of the city are starting to pick up the trend.JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photo

SALEM — Families throughout the North Fields neighborhood are passing time during the coronavirus outbreak by hunting bears.

Teddy bears, mind you. But the idea is spreading rapidly even as families shelter away from possibly contracting or spreading COVID-19 and maintain minimal social contact.

“We went out yesterday and counted, like, 40 bears and only did a third of the neighborhood,” said Cheryl Dolan, who initially posted the idea on a neighborhood group on social media. 

The idea was first posted on March 20 to the North Fields neighborhood group on Facebook, alongside a cover image to the book, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” by Michael Rosen. The post called for people to “put teddy bears in their windows so families can go on a ‘bear hunt’” of their own.

The goal is simply to get families to walk the neighborhood and spot bears in windows, according to Dolan.

“During this time, I’d say to my kids, it isn’t only something that’s fun to do — it also shows you’re not alone,” she said. “Nobody is alone in this. Everyone is trying to lift spirits, and I did see other parts of the neighborhood are doing it.”

Now five days into the effort, bears are also popping up in South Salem. Those are shown on a Google map assembled by Liz Polay-Wettengel, chief of public relations for Salem Public Schools and a resident of Ward 6.

“People started saying, ‘I’m in. I’m in,’” Polay-Wettengel said. “I just put up a simple Google map and asked people for addresses on where the bears were and mapping them out on the Google map.”

On Monday morning, Polay-Wettengel noted the map had 59 points marked out. There were 88 points on the map as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, though a few appeared to be duplicates. There were also three bears reported in South Salem, one downtown off Crombie Street and another off English Street in the Derby Street neighborhood.

The bears aren’t just accomplishing a safari-type adventure for families looking to break free of cabin fever, according to Polay-Wettengel, they’re also helping people and neighborhoods look past some recent political controversies, such as the highly contentious recount over the Ward 6 City Council election this past fall.

“For me, Salem has felt pretty divided over the last few years,” Polay-Wettengel said. “Something like this really feels like it brings the neighborhood together, and that feels really great. It feels really great to know that we’re all in this together and trying to help each other through.”

That was echoed by Meg Riccardi, who represents Ward 6 on the council. She also highlighted recent conversations playing out via sidewalk chalk as another example of a stressed community creating some comfort.

“I’ve been sending out newsletters and communications with the ward, and I put the bear hunt in the last newsletter ... just because there’s information overload with everything going on,” Riccardi said, “People are stressed with being out of work and school. It’s great to have something so positive bringing people together — but not physically together.” 

To view the map, visit bit.ly/NorthShoreBearHunt.

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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