The final tally from the Bakersfield Condors’ annual Teddy Bear Toss came in Wednesday and, as expected, donations took a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 incarnation of the annual event, which took place in a drive-thru format last weekend, brought in roughly 2,000 donated teddy bears and other stuffed animals, down considerably from years prior.
Despite the lower-than-usual haul, organizers and organizations said they still viewed the project as a success, adding that it’s clearly for a good cause.
“The kid are needing their stuffed animals,” said Berenice Solis, the United Way of Kern County financial stability coordinator. “They’re not going to school and they want to receive something. Even with the minimum bears we received, we’re still going to see some happy faces and that’s the least we can do.”
Over the previous 21 years, the Condors have teamed with United Way of Kern County to take toy donations that would be distributed throughout the county. This would ultimately culminate in the Teddy Bear Toss game at Mechanics Bank Arena, where spectators would throw their items onto the ice in celebration after the Condors scored their first goal.
But with the American Hockey League season on hold until at least February, the team and United Way modified this year’s event, holding a drive-thru toss in the arena parking lot last Saturday, where patrons could toss teddy bears into donation bins from their cars.
The 2,000 bear donations was accompanied by roughly $200 in cash. Last year there were 8,380 items collected and in 2017 there was a record 10,549. Those numbers were also accompanied by a live hockey game and near-capacity crowds at Mechanics Bank Arena.
“It is tough,” Solis said. “But being that it was not an actual Condors game, that was expected. The agencies knew we were not going to get as many bears as we had in prior years.”
Collected items were distributed at Mechanics Bank Arena Wednesday morning. Bags containing 25 bears were distributed among 30 agencies, with most leaving with two to three bags.
“Anything that comes our way, we are extremely grateful,” added Wonderful Company Director of Community Relations Manuel Cantu, whose organization collected two bags of items Wednesday. “That just means, on our end, we’ll be more strategic in making sure we identify the kids that will be priority kids.
“If we can hit as many kids as we can, it makes a big impact, especially for the little kids on the holidays who may not be getting anything.”
United Way of Kern County is still taking both toy and money donations at helpkern.org. If the Condors are able to have a season in 2021, there are hopes an official Teddy Bear Toss game will take place in February or March.
“If we have the Condors game ... that’s when we’re going to pick up the most bears,” Solis said. “That is critical to our success.”