Mounds of stuffed animals sat in the corner of the parking lot. Kids began to wander over one by one, curiously studying the different selections. With their small hands they start to look for the perfect one. They wondered if they could give a home to one of the misplaced objects of someone’s childhood. Lines of children were searching for the right one, the right animal to take home and adopt.
The West Valley Presbyterian Church (WVPC) and the Onnuri Church of San Jose held the annual Teddy Bear Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday May 5. Welcome to everyone, the free event encouraged Cupertino citizens to bring their neighbors, friends and family for a relaxing and fun-filled Saturday.
The event not only included stations where children could choose a stuffed animal of their choice but also an adoption clinic and a doctor’s office for the stuffed animals. Aside from the star attraction of the event (adopting a stuffed animal), there were many more activities for the public to enjoy, such as face painting stations, bouncy houses and an arts and crafts station.
Outreach Committee member Dana Nuen, who has been a part of the WVPC for 12 years, is responsible for organizing events like the Teddy Bear Fair.
“The Teddy Bear Fair is a wonderful outreach event for the community where families can come and [...] children [can come] get to adopt a free stuffed animal,” Nuen said. “We have real doctors and nurses at the adoption clinic that can examine the stuffed animal and then the kids get an adoption certificate. They [children] can also get their teddy bear or stuffed animal emended.”
The Teddy Bear not only had an adoption clinic for children to obtain new stuffed animals. Making spin art was station set up by the church to inform students about centrigual forces.
The churches have doctors, nurses and judges to help make the experience of adopting a stuffed animal as authentic for the children as possible. In order to adopt a stuffed animal, a child first has to go to the first station of the adoption clinic: select an animal. Here, children can choose from a myriad of stuffed animals, ranging from small bunnies to figurines of Disney characters which were donated in yearly fundraisers by churches.
After choosing a stuffed animal, a child proceeds onto the next station: adopt your animal, where they have to “legally” assign a name to their newest adoption and also sign a certificate promising to love and care for the animal. A judge, Mike Clark, was recruited to make the children swear to love, honor and protect their animal for the rest of their life.
Finally, the child can bring the stuffed animal to the third and final station, where they have a check-up for the stuffed animal to make sure that there aren’t any loose buttons or seams that could be choking or health hazards for the child. The people working at each station at filled with participants making sure that each step of the process goes smoothly.
A kid patiently waits for a volunteer to fill out the adoption form. The volunteers would brief the kids on what the form means.
Clark used his skills as a judge for the Superior Court of Santa Clara County in California to serve as a judge who encourages the children to swear to love and honor the stuffed animal. He has been an active member of the WVPC for years and leads some of the mission projects in the church, which includes supporting an orphanage for special education kids in Mexico.
“Obviously for me, doing the adoption is fun because I get to see the kids pick out the stuffed animals and make a promise to take care of their animals, Clark said. “Just seeing their faces [is my favorite part] and most of the kids, when I ask them to raise their right hand, raise their left hand and I have to tell them, ‘No, your other right hand.’”
The Teddy Bear Fair recruited volunteers from their own churches to help out with activities for the kids. Face painting attracted a lot of attention amongst the younger children.
Clark is not the only one who gets to apply aspects of their job into their volunteering. Terri Dias, a seven year member of WVPC, is a pediatrics intensive care nurse who performs checkups on the recently adopted animals.
“I reassure the bear that there are no shots, no stick in the mouth — all the things kids are afraid of,” Dias said. “I just do a physical exam on them [stuffed animals] and just and try to mirror what they [the kids] see in the pediatric office to try and take away some of the fear when they [the kids] go.”
This is the 15th anniversary of the Teddy Bear Fair, and many of the church members have seen the event grow throughout the years.
“The first year we did it, someone said, ‘We're going to do a Teddy Bear Fair,’” Clark said. “Most of us thought that sounded like the dumbest thing we have ever heard, but every year the city of Cupertino comes out in pretty large numbers to join us in the Teddy Bear Fair. It's been a kind of a tradition here, both for our church and for our community.”
Jordan Gips, a teenager, has also made a tradition to participate in the fair whether it be as a volunteer ot a student. As a member of the WVPC since she was a baby, she explained how her role at the fair was changed throughout the years. As an adopted child herself, she mentions how the event may be a learning experience for children in the future who would potentially want to adopt a child.
Clark officiated the adoption of the stuffed animals by making the kids keep an oath to protect their stuffed animals for the rest of their life. He told the kids to raise their right hand and repeat the oath after him.
“I always attended the Teddy Bear Fair and now that I'm old enough, I get to help out,” Gips said. “It's [Teddy Bear Fair] something that I always look forward to.It's just a part of the community just because I did it when I was little and I loved seeing the young adults. They were really cool, so I wanted to fill their roles.”
The fair compels many visitors to return with family and friends to, create more memories and adopt more stuffed animals. One of the returning participants is 15 year WVPC member Patricia Sylvia. She usually volunteers at the event but couldn’t this year due to health issues.
“I think what makes it so special [is that] people think it costs something but it doesn't cost nothing,” Sylvia said. “Just come out and have fun, that's the best part. A lot of the community comes and I thinks that's awesome.”
The purpose of the event is not only to spend time with friends and families but also to make the participants aware of the many programs offered at the church, including the vacation bible school, parenting classes and Sunday school. The church has made efforts to educate the community on their available programs and events through the years by talking to people individually.
Doctors at the third station of the adoption clinic composed checkups for the stuffed animal. Dias mentions that they check for loose seams and buttons, anything which could be hazardous for the child.
“It’s changed in the sense that we are a lot more intentional of letting the community know what we have to offer,” Nuen said. “Let them know that we are here to meet through needs. We have free ESL [English as second language classes], and we want people to know about the Lord, to know Jesus, because we know that in this valley, there is a lot of stress that comes with uncertainty.”
The Teddy Bear Festival is an event made for the entire community ranging from kids to adults, maybe even working officials. But for the church, the goal of the event is to make people more aware about God.
“We want people to know the peace of God and the love of God. We serve the community because we want them to know the love of God, to know Jesus,” Nuen said. “This is one of our ways to serve the community.”